What is 'purpose?'

  • Published
  • By Senior Master Sgt. Elise Redziniak, First Sergeant
  • Air Force Life Cycle Management Center
What makes you feel a sense of purpose and passion while serving in your organization?

In a recent study, 57% of younger Americans said when developing their career priorities, the most important is to do work that is enjoyable and meaningful, as this is what keeps them most engaged.

Having a sense of purpose within the work center is vital to our teams as it makes them feel focused, energized and valued. Hopefully all of us have this feeling while we are leading our teams and in the nature of the work we do. Purpose within an organization is guided by a top-down approach. We have all met those people who radiate enthusiasm and passion with their work … it is contagious! As leaders, we need to share our story with our teams and explain what gives us purpose and how we tie that into our actions and daily tasks. We can start by explaining the ‘why’ behind what we do and why our specific job is integral to the Air Force mission.
Another way to instill purpose among our work center is to look for opportunities to provide cross-talk among teams. This will help discover what gives your team members purpose within their work. Some examples in venues to discuss this are routinely throughout the year with our teams, one-on-one mentoring and when we on-board new talent to our organization. The ‘why’ behind some jobs can be lost due to a lack of communication or leaders failing to act within their structured mission and vision statement.
You can encourage teammates to find purpose at work by:
Helping them find what motivates them. This can be done various ways but one that stands out to me is to get to know our members on an individual basis. Take time to get to know them and ask questions about their past before their time with the military. This will hopefully prompt a sense of connectedness between you and that member, but also allow you to keep in mind what they find meaningful so they can be connected to future opportunities.
As we work with our team long enough and have discussions over time, we are able to identify their strengths that benefit the organization. Capitalize on these as it will enhance productivity while members have a sense of fulfillment and engagement in their work.
Offer opportunities for mentorship and coaching. We have all been there, where our purpose for work comes to a close as we do not find it challenging or fulfilling any longer. At that time, it is time to look for a new position or a new challenge to continue to grow. Our members are lifelong learners and desire new opportunities in career development to broaden their skills.
Another way to help encourage teammates to find their purpose at work is to tell them their work matters to the organization and explain what it is specifically that they did to help the work center reach a milestone. With this qualitative/quantitative feedback, people will feel focused and will continue to work hard while being valued by their leaders.
At times, it is hard for some people to find purpose in their career field, but it is extremely important to highlight how our team is linked to a higher cause and it is vital to communicate how all AFSCs tie to the Air Force mission and priorities.
For example, I used to be a Diagnostic Imaging Instructor and after my deployment to Afghanistan, I truly found my purpose and passion toward the career field while I witnessed firsthand why it was so important. I taught my students that although you may have already taken 20 routine x-rays in a day and it may feel mundane, I want you to continue to take on more radiographs as they become available because we are perfecting our craft to improve our patient’s quality of life. I found that radiology is a critical component to saving lives and to provide quality imaging for our surgical team, provide an accurate diagnosis, and for our physicians to construct treatment plans for the patient. There are many stakeholders that rely on and value our knowledge and the work we perform. It is imperative to share my experience with our technologists to help others continue to find purpose in our career field.
In my opinion, it is essential to have a great attitude while finding meaning in the work we do in order to continue to stay energized, focused and improve our customer’s experience.
At the end of the day, we want our people to feel that they matter and their presence and effort in the work center makes a difference while they take pride in the work that they do. As leaders, we need to communicate our experiences and the ‘why’ behind our specific career field.