How higher purpose contributes to project success

Many assume higher purpose centres around pursuing the path of altruism and benevolence. But there is more to it than that. Higher purpose as a way of being is about being visionary and seeing the bigger picture beyond oneself, making it intrinsically connected to effectiveness and, therefore, project and organisational success in any industry, STEM sectors being no exception. In this article, leadership facilitator and Honorary Lecturer at the University of Sydney, Ehssan Sakhaee, explains why.

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May 15, 2022

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Many technical professionals I work with believe they see the bigger picture of their work. But do they really? For instance, they may be working on their part in a project but become stuck in observing only their relatively small contribution rather than seeing its more significant impact, not only on the project itself but on the organisation or even the world. They may perceive what they do as a ‘job’ rather than a contribution. A lack of awareness around the significance of our impact can contribute to lowered engagement, motivation, wellbeing and effectiveness, leading to project failure and high turnover in organisations. Higher purpose is about being visionary. It’s about having the vision to see the bigger picture beyond the immediate task or project at hand. This article explains how this powerful quality leads to project success.

Let’s consider the example of engineers and project managers. Many become successful in their role but often lose meaning in their work or the intrinsic motivation that promotes sustained wellbeing, engagement and a high level of effectiveness. In time, these high calibre professionals resort to extrinsic motivators such as raises, bonuses and promotions that may deliver a burst of satisfaction, but their enthusiasm is unsustainable. A feeling of emptiness may continue to lurk beneath the surface. Often the lack of meaning and purpose that comes from being overly task-focused can lead to increased stress, anxiety, procrastination and, eventually, burnout. 

Some years ago, I was promoted to a senior academic role at one of Japan's top universities, where I enjoyed travelling around the world for conference presentations and publishing in leading technical journals. Despite my external success, I lacked meaning internally; I wasn't present to how my work was making a significant difference in the world. Consequently, I observed a decline in my motivation levels, reducing my sense of wellbeing and effectiveness on the project. 

Self-determination theory and how we are all responsible

What gets in the way of people, including technical professionals, feeling enthusiastic and experiencing joy and a high level of motivation, engagement and satisfaction in the work they do? A theory of motivation called ‘self-determination theory’ states that all human beings have three basic psychological needs: 

  1. A perceived sense of autonomy. People need to feel they are in control of their lives rather than being controlled by their environment.
  2. Competency. It is important that people feel competent and effective in what they pursue or the situation they find themselves in. 
  3. Relatedness. People need to feel a sense of care for and care from others. 

There is no need for us to wait for external forces to provide these basic psychological needs. We can choose powerfully to be responsible and take matters into our own hands by looking at the following:

  1. Seeing the value of our work in what we do in relation to the bigger purpose. This may require us to look beyond the short term tasks to their long term impacts.
  2. Crafting our own job in the environment by proposing new projects and initiatives (also known as being an intrapreneur) and/or utilising our skills more effectively and gaining relevant support from the people around us.
  3. Removing ourselves from our current environment if we cannot find meaning and purpose in what we do. Instead, create and find our own path and become an entrepreneur!
  4. Be compassionate on the journey, as whatever path we choose, we will need to bring compassion and patience and be prepared for challenges ahead. 

Being drawn and compelled towards a future vision or cause greater than our immediate concerns (higher purpose) is not often acknowledged as a real opportunity to make a difference in terms of how it affects our sense of motivation and joy in our endeavours. As you can see from the excerpt of the Being Framework™ ontological distinction of higher purpose below, it is a way of being that can significantly contribute to our effectiveness.

“Higher purpose is being drawn and compelled towards a future vision or cause greater than your personal concerns and beyond your immediate interests and/or comfort in such a way that it sets your priorities and worldview.” 
 [Tashvir, A. (2021). BEING (p. 341). Engenesis Publication]

Stepping into our higher purpose gives us access to making a valuable contribution to others and the world. Being of service beyond oneself is highly motivating in itself and works congruently with higher purpose. Returning to my personal example, I knew I had to find a new purpose beyond myself, beyond my career, that made a real noticeable impact on others. I became passionate about developing mentoring programs for students and workshops around improving quality of life and wellbeing. This gave me meaning, which subsequently reignited my enthusiasm and energy. My higher purpose led me to step into the trust and courage I needed to resign from my job, return to Australia and begin a new journey and career path focused on personal development, wellbeing and leadership development.

It’s easy to become blocked to our potential when we are fixated on the task or project at hand. The truth is, we all have the power within to connect with our purpose and find joy and meaning in what we do. By choosing powerfully to cultivate a higher purpose beyond ourselves, we can develop confidence in our ability to experience a sense of autonomy and freedom in what we do. When higher purpose is present on a collective scale, such as within an organisation, the ripple effect can be extraordinary.

TrustPersonal GrowthMotivationPurpose

Ehssan Sakhaee

About The Author

Dr. Ehssan Sakhaee is a leadership facilitator, lecturer, author, speaker and engineer. He has taught, mentored and coached thousands of engineers and project managers over the past decade to cultivate higher levels of wellbeing, leadership and effectiveness. He holds a PhD in Engineering and was a lecturer at University of Sydney and UCLA Extension in the field of personal development and leadership for project managers and engineers.

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