Discovering Purpose

Helping those we lead satisfy their need for significance

As the world debated Tom Brady’s alleged improprieties in the Patriot’s 2015 Deflate Gate scandal, a wonderful story emerged out of Ada, Ohio.  A story about purpose.  A story about Jane Helser – a football seamstress from the Wilson football factory.

For 48 years Jane stitched together the 4 panels of leather that comprise an an official NFL football.  Upon her retirement she reflected, “When I’m at a Super Bowl and I walk in that stadium at kick off time and I see that football sitting out there on that field; I get goose bumps because I sewed that football.”

When we think about finding purpose at work, our minds often gravitate to the grandiose.  Sometimes presuming purpose is found only in the innovative or prominent positions.  But watching Jane Helser, with tears in her eyes, describe her career as a football seamstress inspired me to rethink significance and purpose.

As leaders, we should hope purpose isn’t reserved for a select few.  If it was, inspiring people in every seat to feel significant would be a hopeless endeavor.  And if not reserved for the few, perhaps it can be discovered by all.  Ahh…therein lies a leadership challenge.

Years ago I stumbled upon Dr. Tim Kimmel’s Grace Based Parenting model.  One component of this larger framework deals with meeting our kids’ need for significance.  Not to be relegated to parenting, this model is equally powerful for marketplace leaders.

Tim’s model for meeting people’s need for significance includes 4 layers; much like the 4 leather panels Jane stitched together for nearly half a century.  When carefully sewn together they meet a critical need deep within those we lead – helping them grip significance.

Panel #1: General Purpose

If I had to write the basic operating system on which all employees would run, it would likely include 2 blocks of code.  The first would be a sincere desire to serve others.

The Apostle Paul framed this by writing, Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others (Philippians 2:3-4).

Secondarily, the embedded operating system would empower employees to find contentment in their work.  King Solomon addressed this by penning, A person can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in their own toil. This too, I see, is from the hand of God (Ecclesiastes 2:24).

Imagine if every employee arrived each morning with a general purpose to serve others and found contentment in doing so.  What if your company was full of Jane Helsers who got goose bumps over seeing their invoices paid, loading docks filled, call center queues emptied, or help desk tickets resolved.  If this were the case, your company would absolutely perform at a higher level.

Perhaps serving others and enjoyment of work should be the very competencies we recruit.  And for existing employees, maybe this should be the foundation of personal development planning.  Instead of completing Excel or sales training, maybe our employees should learn to serve others joyfully.  Regardless, instilling this general purpose should be foundational to meeting your peoples’ need for significance.

Panel #2: Specific Purpose

The next panel stitched into place is that of specific purpose.  As the name implies, this second panel is not the same for all.  In fact leaders often have to help their people discover it for it’s often gone unnoticed for decades.

In my case, it was 21 years into my career before I discovered my specific purpose.  Working with executive coach Dick Savidge and Building Champions I learned of my unique gifts as an innovator and encourager. Now that I’ve given myself permission to contribute principally in these ways, I’ve discovered a renewed sense of purpose.

In a previous post I talked about Helping our People Win at Work.  Using this framework we can search our team members to discover interests to cultivate and strengths to leverage.  According to God, each of us is fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14).  So why not use ourselves to the fullest.  The way God intended.

Panel #3: Relational Purpose

Whether introvert or extrovert – fundamentally we’re all relational.  We function better in community.  This applies in all areas of life which is why we’ve created so many social structures like health clubs, country clubs, support groups, fraternities, sororities, and Starbucks coffeehouses.  Work is no different.

At one point in my career I spent four years working from my home. By the final year, I found myself spending most days in my underwear, pacing around like a caged animal…longing for human interaction. Surprisingly, these feelings aren’t unique to telecommuters. It’s often felt by people working in large operating centers who remain relationally disconnected from the people around them.

Keeping this reality in mind, creating authentic community should be an imperative for leaders.

Panel #4: Spiritual Purpose

It’s easy to think matters of faith have no place in the workplace.  But this thinking is flawed.  True, we must be cautious not to proselytize.  However, to dismiss or diminish the power of faith would be naïve.

If you’re a person of faith in the marketplace you might consider functioning like a military chaplain.  Specifically, chaplains are disallowed from initiating conversations about matters of faith. However, if in the process of serving those around them someone inquires directly, Chaplains may then step into the conversation and talk directly about matters of faith. Appreciating the sense of purpose faith provides, I encourage people to pursue their faith – knowing that doing so feeds significance.


Jane Helser may seem like an outlier…and to be honest she probably is.  But what she’s found, we should want for all of our people.  A significant purpose.  And much like the footballs Jane stitched together for 48 years, the significance we seek for our people also consists of 4 panels.  Four layers of purpose:

  1. General purpose
  2. Specific purpose
  3. Relational purpose
  4. Spiritual purpose

Question: Have you considered your role in helping your people discover a significant purpose at work? If so, what successes have you had – and what was the end result? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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