Checking in on Purpose

By Chris Kotur (WCLP’94), Leader in Residence, Leadership Victoria 

I’m guilty. I think I have my purpose all worked out and then let life get in the way of re-examining, and possibly updating, my reasons for working and acting for others as I do; and checking to see if I can make any improvements.

The end of a year is a good time to reflect and do just that.

I worked on becoming clear about my purpose some time ago. The Williamson Community Leadership Program sharpened my focus.  I was certain my purpose would involve applying my skills and energy to make a positive difference for other people.

Fast forward. By now I have facilitated consultations for all levels of government, for three Royal Commissions, numerous inquiries, boards and community groups; and I routinely get to help hundreds of people work through difficult, complex problems.

Here are some ways that I use as a facilitator to reflect on purpose.

Stories are universal

In his Nobel Prize acceptance speech Kazuo Ishiguro said, ‘Stories are about one person saying to another: This is the way it feels to me. Can you understand what I’m saying? Does it feel this way for you?’

Stories show me how different people react to difficulties and unwelcome change and point to the direction of where I can improve connections between the right people, services and stakeholders.

I gain so many new insights and fresh ideas from people’s stories. Each story is an opportunity to examine, shape and communicate purpose.

Questions matter

The facilitator’s role has had me ask questions of people affected by trauma, violence, mental illness, suffering and sadness. Their answers suggest it’s sometimes best to avoid searching for absolutes, for right or wrong or good or bad.  I learn more about how I can make a difference to people by asking ‘what would better look like’, ‘what would it take to improve these circumstances’, ‘if we could do things differently to make this better, what would they be?’

Each answer reveals ways to improve their lives and for me, ways to strengthen purpose.

Feeling safe is important

Facilitators can offer people ways to have open conversations without being afraid – conversations deep enough for differences to emerge and the search for ways to improve lives to continue.  Looking for improvement might mean people setting aside previously comfortable routines and behaviours to learn from others and adapt.

Here is a test of purpose that requires examining if ego and attachment to particular views get in the way of adapting to new, often unwelcome circumstances. The result is often a tense situation but always worth the effort.

As a facilitator I get to learn from stories and explore options to improve people’s lives. By asking keen questions and offering a safe space to explore different perspectives, I get numerous opportunities to test and strengthen my sense of purpose.

After this timely reflection and after all these years, my early commitment seems to be holding up quite well.

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