As leaders, we know the importance of guiding principles: values that help inform an organizations decision-making process. Last week I had a thought provoking conversation on the process and consequences of organizational identities with Douglas Lepisto, a Ph.D student from Boston College.
“Most academic research assumes organizational identities are “essential” and therefore ambiguity regarding who the organization is fosters the need to quickly clarity the organization’s identity.”
But the fact of the matter is, that like us, organizations face continuous change, financial imperatives and competitive dynamics that can threaten their survival. When these pressures become mainstays, organizations face chronic ambiguity.
Doug’s research focuses on how leaders navigate these situations and perhaps even thrive, despite the chronic lack of understanding of who the organization is.
This conversation led me to raise the following question: How can we expect organizations to have a clear identity, when we often struggle to find our own?
When you think about it, it’s really not surprising at all. Most of us operate without a deep understanding of ourselves, or our values and guiding principles.
At first I attributed this lack of understanding to a refusal to ask life’s toughest questions.
What do I want from my life?
What is my contribution to the world?
Why am I here?
What is my purpose?
But a conversation at a dinner party I was hosting, offered a new perspective on the root of the problem.
It’s not the questions. It’s the process.
There are countless books on finding purpose and meaning. On Amazon 55,000 titles are returned when you search for purpose. The majority pose a variation of the questions I listed above. All of them focus on asking the right questions, but few focus on the process of finding the answers.
It’s not that we avoid the tough questions. Instead it’s that we avoid questioning the assumptions and norms that our comfort, security and success is predicated on.
Instead of going deep, we stay at the surface. Because going deep means that we have to decipher between our identity and the identities of the organizations, institutions and communities we are a part of.
It means that instead of accepting the meaning, values and ideals of the groups we surround ourselves with, we have to create our own.
This process means we have to separate ourselves from the pack. It means solitude.
In our day-to-day lives, solitude is a luxury that we rarely (if ever) grant ourselves. Solitude can be blissful. But it can also be frightening as hell.
Solitude requires us to get comfortable with OURSELVES.
or how you came to be here.
I want to know if you will stand
in the centre of the fire with me
and not shrink back.
It doesn’t interest me
where or what or with whom
you have studied.
I want to know what sustains you
from the inside
when all else falls away.
I want to know
if you can be alone with yourself
and if you truly like
the company you keep
in the empty moments.
The Invitation, Oriah Mountain Dreamer
Have you ever sat still for hours on end in complete and utter solitude? No phone. No computer. No other humans. Just you and Mother Nature connecting and learning from one another?
You root yourself into the ground, trying to get comfortable in this unfamiliar place. Just when you think it’s impossible to quiet your mind, you breathe deeply and stillness and serenity gradually wash over you.
Your to do list, obligations and worries fade off into the expansiveness of the horizon as the sights and sounds of the natural world become amplified.
At first the chirping of the birds and rustling of the sage are just sounds dancing in the distance. But slowly, as time passes, the birdsong becomes your song. It sings to you the thoughts, dreams and fears you were too afraid to say out loud.
Workshops, webinars and conferences are held around the globe in crowded lecture halls, convention centers and community spaces. Few give you the freedom, silence and solitude to discover the answers that lie hidden in the deepest parts of yourself.
Solitude demands that you become comfortable with who you are.
As we search for purpose and meaning we need to pay attention to the process and environment in which we are answering life’s most difficult and most rewarding questions.
Most of us stay with the pack and cling to the surface, never daring to do the work required to answer these important questions. But ultimately, the process you use and the environment you place yourself in, will determine the depth, quality and authenticity of your answers.