CEO Stories: Alaina Love, CEO, Purpose Linked Consulting
LINKING PURPOSE AND PASSION
When the twin flames of passions of purpose burn, they allow individuals, teams, and organizations to do their best work, according to former HR executive Alaina Love. Being successful or making a lot of money isn’t enough to satisfy the inner longing that has people looking for “more” – often in the wrong places and to no avail. Research shows that for most people, happiness starts to trail off in their late 20s and picks up again in their 60s. That’s not related to life events, says Love, but to the fact that people will spend some 85,000 of their lives at work, and aren’t fulfilled by it.
THE PASSION PROFILER
Love developed an online psychometric tool, the Passion Profiler, to allow people to discover how the ten passion archetypes resonate with them. The ten are Creator; Conceiver; Discoverer; Processor; Teacher; Connector; Altruist; Healer; Transformer; and Builder. These passions are an outward expression of purpose. She says an understanding of an individual’s dominant three, which drive behavior, can help guide them to more fulfilling lives, personally and professionally.
With Gallup estimating that seven out of ten employees aren’t engaged at work, managers’ ability to connect employees to work that they find meaningful to them takes on greater urgency. Building teams with not only the right mix of skills but the right mix of passions can drive stronger results, Love argues, because people feel a stronger sense of commitment and desire to contribute. She advises people not to think about them as job descriptions. A builder is just as likely to be an entrepreneur as an architect; a teacher won’t necessarily be in the classroom.
POC: They say if you do what you love you’ll never work a day in your life. But is following one’s passions really the path to success? Does it make a difference to employers if people are passionate about what they do? And when some 22 million people have lost their jobs in the U.S. since the start of the Covid 19 pandemic, is pursuing passion a luxury people can afford?
Alaina Love’s answer to all of these questions is a resounding yes. In fact, some 20 years ago, Alaina traded in her career as a highly successful HR executive to pursue her own passion. As a CEO of Purpose Linked Consulting she has helped thousands of people discover their passions and how they intersect with something even more fundamental and powerful – purpose.
What happens when you mix that potent combination of passion and purpose? Alaina Love is going to tell us what it means for individuals and for companies, and why teams with the right composition of passions are more effective.
Alaina, thank you for joining us today on This is Capitalism, CEO Stories.
AL: It is my pleasure, Patricia, thank you for inviting me to talk about this really important subject.
POC: Alaina, why is it important to individuals, to companies and to people who manage teams?
AL: Well, I will start with the individual piece first because that affects just about everything else you’ve asked a question about. When I think about this notion of purpose and passion, I can’t help but be driven back to a time in my life where I was wrestling with this issue for myself.
I was a senior executive inside a large organization with a great career ahead of me, I had already had a lot of success in the career that I had laid out for myself thus far and was told by my boss that I was his successor for his position. He was reporting to the CEO. And while that news should have fallen upon me with a great sense of excitement and pleasure and this feeling of “I’ve made it, finally,” I remember the feeling being quite different — one where I felt “oh gee, I don’t know that I want this, is this really the right decision for me, am I doing work and spending time every single day doing something that I feel a sense of passion for and that is aligned with a deeper purpose that I carry?”
POC: Up until that moment, if someone had said to you, “Alaina, do you like your job, do you enjoy what you do,” what would you have said?
AL: I would have said I loved it. I thought I was a lifer. I thought I would never leave that organization, that there were so many opportunities there, that certainly there would be many things to hold my interest and pique my curiosity for the next 30 years.
I realized after sitting with it that I had been doing things that allowed me to be extremely successful in the role but I wasn’t doing things that really fueled my soul, that gave me a sense of true fulfillment, a true feeling of the work that I was doing being an expression of who I am.
And I deeply wanted that. Having the requisite corner office and the parking space with my name on it and the bonus and the stock options wasn’t enough anymore and I began really a quest to understand this issue at a deeper level and understand whether or not there were other people who were feeling the same way.
POC: How did you feel that it was this element of passion that was missing? We normally don’t think about work and passion as going together, at least not in an appropriate sense.
AL: [Laughs] No, no we don’t. But I sat down with that same question and I pondered it because I felt like “why isn’t the fact that I am successful at doing the things I’m doing and being rewarded for it enough?” And then when I really thought about it and I did a little back of the envelope calculation, I realized that most of us — in fact, everyone I know — is going to spend more than 85,000 hours of their lives at work and that is a long time to spend somewhere where you don’t feel like what you’re doing is really deeply purposeful as it relates to what you want to accomplish in the world.
And I began to understand that this notion of purpose and passion were actually connected. They weren’t separate things. And once I figured that out, it became very clear to me that a lot of what I was doing, while I was successful at it, wasn’t something where I was having the opportunity to express my passions. And as a consequence I wasn’t doing things that felt ultimately deeply purposeful to me.
POC: You said if I had asked you before you had this epiphany, if you will, you would have said “yes, I loved my job.” But now you’ve brought in the idea of purpose. Was it purpose that was missing from your job? And what is purpose? Ideally all know what we’re supposed to do on our jobs.
AL: Well I think that is a question that the people I have talked to in the intervening 20 years have all asked themselves to some degree or another. And most of us think, at least initially, that we can pick up the shopping cart and go down the health and beauty aisle and find it sitting on the shelf there and we’ve got our answer.
But the reality is that my research has shown me that we all come into the world with this sense of having some sort of a purpose. Most of us spend our entire lives trying to figure out exactly what that is. Most of us have this feeling that if we just figure out that one thing we’re supposed to be doing that will be our answer and we will suddenly be satisfied, which begs the question once you’ve done it, are you finished? What is left to life after you think you have achieved this thing called purpose?
But what I began to discover as I was researching this and interviewing tons of people who were deemed to be by their organizations high potential talent, the kind of talent that organizations were seeking to develop for the C suite, I began to understand that a whole lot of people were wrestling with the same question. And those who had figured out how to weave who they are into what they were doing and were in roles where they felt that their passions had a chance to come out and play every day, those were the folks who also felt that what they were doing was a line to a deeper purpose that they were here to achieve.
So that really was where I got the first instinct that purpose and passion were connected. And what I came to understand after many years of wrestling with this issue is that people’s passions, whether they are exhibited through their personal relationships or they are exhibited in their work settings, are actually the outward expression of the deeper purpose that drives them.
So this notion of purpose then for me became something that was much more expanded. It wasn’t this one thing I am supposed to do and when I’ve done it I’m finished and I can check it off my list and I can sit on the front porch for the rest of my life. Once you understand the passions that emanate from the purpose, you then have the currency to dissect that question for yourself and understand it.
So, what I did in essence is pretty simple. I get to purpose through the back door. I use passion as a vehicle for doing it. And along with a team of researchers from the University of Michigan, I developed an online psychometric tool called The Passion Profiler. And what that is able to do is identify how a person resonates with each of the ten passion archetypes that are present in all of us. We all have them to greater or lesser degrees.
The most important thing for each of us to do is to understand what our top three are and how those top three passions are really driving our behaviors, how they are imbuing us with certain strengths that others without those passions don’t tend to genuinely carry, and how they might also cause us to be challenged with certain vulnerabilities because of those passions.
POC: How did you find the ten?
AL: It’s interesting. I really found the ten through the initial work that I began to do with high potential folks. I began a structured interview process and I looked at them in 14 different industry segments across the nation, across the globe, for that matter, and I looked at people in large for-profit organizations, non-profits, hospitals, the military, small organizations.
I began to notice as I was conducting this research is that there were certain folks who were showing up over and over again with certain patterns of behavior. And I didn’t at the time understand what those patterns of behavior were that I was seeing but I started noticing that they would exhibit themselves consistently across groups of people that I was looking at through this study.
And I began to realize oh my gosh, I have been seeing those patterns of behavior, those patterns of passion, throughout my career working with the leaders and teams that I have worked with when I was in a corporate setting. I just didn’t know what they were or what to call them.
So I as began to examine them, they fell into, as I said, 10 different categories. Not 11, not 9, but 10. And through some pretty serious psychometric research, I began to identify what they looked like, what did each of those passions look like, very, very specific to that particular passion that made them different from others.
POC: Can you quickly take us through the ten, just even give us the names?
AL: The ten archetypes are Creator, that is the archetype of the artist, Conceiver, that’s the archetype of the strategic, out of the box thinker. The archetype of the Discoverer, which is the truth seeker, the archetype of the Processor, which sounds exactly like it is, the archetype that likes to take data, information and anything that looks like disorder and put it into order so that it is more readily utilizable and understandable by others.
The archetype of the Teacher, which is the archetype that loves sharing knowledge and learning. The archetype of the Connector, which is the bridge builder, the architect of relationship, the negotiator. There is the archetype of the Altruist, which is the archetype that cares deeply about supporting and honoring the promise of a brand of an organization, is the organization doing what it says it stands for and are we doing things that have a larger global impact.
The archetype of the Healer, which is the archetype that cares deeply about the pain others may be struggling with and how to help them navigate through it successfully. There is the archetype of the Transformer, which is the archetype that loves change and chaos.
And then finally, the archetype of the Builder, which is all about achieving big, hairy, audacious goals, preferably ones that haven’t been achieved before with no roadmap and no direction on how to get there but a real enthusiasm for making it happen.
POC: So what does it mean for individuals when they discover their passions and the hierarchy of their passions, because you’ve said we all have some of all ten in us. But what does it mean for people when they do understand this and what does it mean for them as they show up at work?
AL: Understanding your passions provide you with a roadmap and a language for describing the very best that you can be and understanding exactly where you can contribute in ways that you would not be able to contribute just through your skill set alone.
And that doesn’t mean by the way that skills aren’t important. They always will be, but what if we had the ability to build an organization where we were leveraging the skills of the people on the team, we were leveraging the passions that they were wired with and really giving them opportunities to utilize those passions and the roles that we assign them to and we were putting them in a cultural environment where their values were honored? I mean you would have an amazingly powerful combination that extends far beyond what just hiring somebody for a particular set of skills they have could possibly deliver to you.
Once I understand okay, I am in role X, this role requires that I do these following things and I have these particular objectives to accomplish, when I can unpack how now can I bring some of my passions to this work, it starts making the work take on a different meaning for us.
But suddenly I am putting a piece of myself in this work that I am doing and it becomes an expression of who I am as much as it becomes a role or a responsibility that I have to accomplish. That makes the level of engagement I feel for that much higher and my sense of commitment to contributing even higher than it would be otherwise.
And it also then allows the person who is leading me, or, if I’m leading a team it allows me to understand each of those individuals on a much more intimate level, and I suddenly now am in a position where I can say gee, I want to take Patricia and put her on this particular team that is working on this particular issue because she is going to bring along to that team a set of skills called teacher. And she is going to look at what that team is doing and she is going to make decisions about how she can help others on the team or others in the larger organization learn what they need to learn in order to carry this work forward in a better and more meaningful way.
So as a leader, I am looking at what is the passion composition of my team, do I have people aligned on the team with the right kinds of roles or contributing to projects in ways that I might not have thought to invite them to do if I had just been looking at their skill set or their functional area of responsibility.
POC: According to Gallup something like only 30 percent of employees are genuinely engaged at work. Do you think that there is a relationship between this lack of understanding or lack of knowledge about passion and purpose and the lack of engagement?
AL: I think there is a very direct correlation between those two and we have actually done some research on it. There is also correlation between that level of engagement, understanding of passion and something that positive psychologists would call the happiness curve where they look at the degree of happiness that we feel across our lifetimes and they suddenly start seeing a dip in our late twenties that continues to decrease significantly and doesn’t come back up out of that trough until we are 60 and above.
They examine the question why, why are we feeling, experiencing this deep trough and why are we coming out of that trough later? And people hypothesize well, the kids are graduated, the dog died and you retired and you can do what you want when you’re past 60 so that must be why everybody is feeling happier. That then begs the question why are we starting to feel miserable at 27 or 28? And people hypothesize well it’s because suddenly you get married and you have kids and you have all these responsibilities.
The reality is that we in those early years of our career, especially supported by the research we have done are seeking to understand how it is we are supposed to carry forth with the rest of our career. Generally we come into a role and in the early stages of being in that role or being in that organization, we are looking forward and we are looking at particular positions and opportunities and thinking to ourselves oh when I grow up I want to be the VP of marketing or I want to be the head of IT.
So we hold onto that vision of what our future career path is going to look like. And we hold onto that from our twenties and into our thirties and sometimes beyond. And at some point we find ourselves looking at that position from a different vantage point. And suddenly it has lost its luster, it isn’t what we thought it was. And that causes us to begin to question everything we have done. Even though we realize we have had some career success behind us and we realize we have a pretty large career trajectory ahead of us, we’re not sure that what we thought we were aspiring to is where we should be going.
What we found in our research is that begins to happen in your early thirties, which is exactly modeling or correlating with the happiness curve and that’s when you start to see this drop in engagement.
POC: Do you find that people who are more mature in their careers and have maybe just settled and are going along are still interested in doing this kind of discovery?
AL: The research shows that as people age and move towards years of greater maturity, we’ll put it in those terms, as we become people of a certain age, Meaning starts to matter over money.
So what I am seeing in my research is what I will call a confluence of self-actualization and it is happening on both ends of the generational spectrum. We’ve got millennials and those coming in as gen z-ers who have been raised in environments and by people who have told them find what your passion is and make a career of that.
And those folks took that advice very seriously and they are not just looking to find a passion for their career, they are looking to find a passion and create a life around it. To their parents’ credit, the locks have not been changed on the doors when they moved out so they have had the ability to flex back and forth, try different things out, different positions, different organizations, even different career paths, and they have had the financial support of their families to allow them to have that kind of flexibility.
On the other end of the generational spectrum you have more mature employees who have been raised with a different mindset about what a career was supposed to look like. You know, you devote yourself to the company, you do what you’re told, you wait your turn, you work hard and eventually your capabilities will be recognized and you’ll be rewarded and you’ll have a retirement plan to fall back on, etcetera.
And through a series of events, not the least of which have been various financial catastrophes that we have experienced in our world over the last 20 years or so, people have begun to realize that what I thought I was going to have financially maybe I’m not going to have a degree of that comfort any longer. I may have to work longer. And they are also at the same time approaching an age where they are naturally going to begin asking the question how do I find meaning, what is meaningful in my life and it can’t just be more of the same.
POC: How do you get people away from thinking that their passion and purpose might not be in concert with a specific job description? Because some of them do almost imply specific jobs. Should a Builder be an architect? Is that the only way someone with a Builder passion can express that?
AL: When you really come to understand the nuances of each of these passions, you understand that there are myriad ways in which they might be expressed. You don’t necessarily have to be someone in front of a classroom full of children to hold a Teacher archetype.
In fact, my icon when I do this work and present this work with teams, my icon for the Teacher is Oprah Winfrey. She is not at all in front of a classroom but she has had a career where she has spent her life figuring out how to translate messages and help people learn and help people grow through the work that she was doing first as a broadcaster, then with her own show, now with podcasts, etcetera. And I think at one point I remember seeing her interviewed and she was asked what did she want to be and she thought to herself if I could have chosen to be anything that I wanted to be when I grew up, I would have been a teacher.
POC: We have had millions and millions of job losses. We have people who are afraid that they won’t work even in survival jobs, let alone in professional jobs. We have workplaces that are confused because people don’t know what the new norms are going to be as we eventually come out on the other side of this pandemic. How could this be useful at this time and going forward in helping organizations be more effective?
AL: What I have found since doing this work since the pandemic began is that people, more people, almost nearly everyone I come into contact with, it seems, that I have any kind of deep conversation with, I find that they are all really, really worried about what their lives are going to be like going forward.
And it’s not just a worry about am I going to make enough money, am I going to be able to pay the bills. I think this whole situation of coming face to face with the potential of your own death or extreme illness or death of others that you love in such large numbers has made us sit back and ask ourselves the question am I doing what matters? Am I living every moment of every day in a way where I feel like I am making the greatest contribution that I can make?
And that is causing people to fundamentally examine the choices that they made before and how those choices may be the same or they may want them to be different going forward and it’s bringing them to this question of purpose and to this question passion on a personal level.
It is not something that can be ignored if you want to maximize the talent that exists within your organization. You have to realize you get the whole person and the whole person these days is a little bit beat up since this pandemic began. So that’s one piece of information that I would say is important to have as a frame of reference when leaders are thinking about this.
The second piece is that yes, we may in fact have people in roles that aren’t their dream job, so to speak. I need to take this job because right now that’s where I am economically, I need to figure out a way to make a living, I’ve got bills to pay, etcetera.
And what I say when we think about well, I’ve got to take this role because it helps to pay the bills is “what can you do and see within that role that allows you to feel like you are making a contribution that is really you, one that you are uniquely able to offer to that particular role in ways that you didn’t think you could? How do you bring you to it?”
Well you can’t begin to answer that question if you don’t know who ‘you’ is. If you don’t know what your passions are you can’t begin to then take an active role in crafting an outlet for them in the position you are in.
Let me give you a simple example. I remember working with a team, it was actually a hospital team, and the team consisted of individuals at various levels in the organization, everything from people who were IV nurses and had direct patient contact to people who were working in environmental or food service. And we did passion and archetype work on that entire team just to figure out the combination of passions that existed on this team and how were we going to leverage them to improve patient satisfaction in the organization.
And one of the individuals on the team worked in environmental. So his job was to go in and mop floors in patients’ rooms, change over, move beds around when a patient left a room and they needed to re-outfit a particular room. And he did that day after day, year after year for years. And interestingly, as you look at a position like that, you think to yourself, oh my god, that is mind numbing, how could I possibly find any kind of satisfaction from mopping a floor all day long?
But we noticed something interesting about that particular person who was on the team and that was that for some reason the floors that he worked on tended to have the highest patient satisfaction scores and we could not figure out why. Why was this the case? And often in the evaluations, he was mentioned by the patients or by their families.
And what we found out was that this particular person had a Healer archetype. He was not a doctor, he was not a nurse, he was not certified scientifically to do anything. He went in and mopped floors everyday but as he went into each of those rooms every day, He would go in and have conversations with the patients, chit-chat with them, learn about their background, learn about their children and their grandchildren and make conversation and make them feel like they were cared for.
And if the patient was struggling and needed something, he would go down the hallway and get one of the nurses to come in and help them. And he just did that as a normal practice because he is a Healer, because he cared about their difficulties and he wanted to take a personal role in helping them get through those difficulties. And he made them feel seen.
POC: So, Alaina, someone who doesn’t have the benefit of being able to work with you or the benefit of someone who is in a company that is working with you to help craft a team that has the right mix of passion profiles, how does somebody get started figuring out passion and purpose on their own?
AL: Well, there’s a couple of ways to go about it. I have written a book about it called The Purpose Linked Organization and with that book there is a chapter on each of the passion archetypes and a description of someone who typifies that particular passion and how those passions show up for them. If you buy a hard cover book, the reverse side of the back jacket has a code on it that allows you to take an abbreviated version of the Passion Profiler and find out what your top three passions are.
Other individuals can go to a public website that we have created because we wanted more people to have the opportunity to have access to this knowledge and that website is called Mypassionality.com. And there you can purchase a code for under $15 to take the Passion Profiler and find out what your top three passions are as well, which begins to at least give you the information that you need to start sorting out the places were those particular passions might have a chance to be applied.
And that is the first and most important thing to understand about yourself – what are my passions? How do they resonate in my own life and in the way I work and the way I interact in relationships with others? And then, armed with that information, how can I begin to utilize them even more intentionally going forward?
POC: Is there any value in people even doing some self-reflection thinking about what are the things that I have done, whether it’s professionally or in the rest of my life that have given me the greatest satisfaction, that have given me the greatest joy?
AL: I love that question, Patricia, because it dovetails perfectly with some very important research that we had done on the Passion Profiler data a couple of years ago by the psychology department at Monmouth University. They have a social self and identity laboratory there and they were deeply engaged and interested in the Passion Profiler.
And one of the aspects of the professional version of the tool that we measure when someone takes the Passion Profiler is their capacity for reflection and meaning-making. And there are a couple of different scores that are part of that section of the instrument. One that is the reflective contemplation score, it’s a measure of the degree to which they tend to be thinking and reflecting on their general life experiences and using those experiences to make meaning of their lives going forward. And then there is something called the work inspired reflection score, which is exactly what it sounds like – what is the degree to which your work inspires you to think and reflect and learn and grow.
People who tended to be reflective in general, tended to also engage more often in work-inspired reflection. And, more importantly, those who engaged in work-inspired reflection more often tended to drive up their level of engagement for their role.
So the whole notion of reflection is extremely critical and it is something that we don’t tend to give enough attention to in the busy rush to get answers and rush to get objectives accomplished world that we live in.
What we have also found is that when one engages in that reflection and looks back across the span of their lifetime, if they understand their passions, they will invariably see example after example in their lifetime of when those passions have come out to play and they can connect that with a level of fulfillment that they received when that was happening.
I have been doing this for a while. I can trace my passions back to the time I was about seven or eight year old, right, where I can think of very specific examples of things that I was doing where my particular passions were absolutely at play. And I can carry that examination forward and carry it right up to today and see how those passions have been playing themselves out over the course of my lifetime. So that is a great suggestion for people to actually engage in that process and recognize the benefit that they get from reflection that is far more than you may have thought.
POC: Well, Alaina Love, you are a great example of what happens when someone does decide to pursue their passion and what a difference it can make for them personally and professionally and what a difference it can make for others as well. Thank you for joining us today on This is Capitalism, CEO Stories.
AL: Thank you so much for having me, it has been a pleasure.
POC: For more on Purpose and Passion, please visit: the purposelink.com. Please visit thisiscapitalism.com for additional podcasts and related content. I’m Patricia O’Connell and This Is Capitalism.
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