Andrew Thornton on “Should” vs. “Purpose”

Last weekend, after a beautiful breakfast to celebrate my partner’s birthday, we headed to the Tate Modern to see a Bauhaus Exhibition. Passing through the underpass by Pimlico tube, I was struck by the number of homeless people sleeping rough. I don’t think I am imagining that there are way more people sleeping rough in London than ever. I was struck by a guilt pang – what I am doing about this? I have a privileged life, am very fortunate and could help those less fortunate than me.

Reflecting on this, I saw that we all have roles in life to play and will be most effective if those roles are aligned with our passions and abilities. One of the key principles of me being an Authentic Leader is understanding my purpose – helping me understand the unique contribution that I can make in this world. The Indians call it Swadharma (literally “own duty”). I am very clear on mine and even have my own purpose statement – “I am a visionary heart surgeon, helping leaders to heal so they can help others shine”. With this clear direction, I am know that its not for me to have to focus on the homeless crisis in London – or indeed peace in the Middle East, the farce that is our current politician landscape or the implications of #metoo. It’s not that I don’t need to care, it’s that my energies are better focused elsewhere. 

Going back 10 years, a few years into my journey as a supermarket owner, I had started to make an impact in the two London communities in which I had stores – I started to become inundated with requests to join committees, to come to events, to be a trustee…and I kept saying yes, feeling it was my duty, what I “should” do. I was pulled all over the place, exhausted, on the verge of a burnout and if I look back, not really that effective at anything. 

It took the loss of one of my stores to competition and a sabbatical (involving some time in India) for me to discover my Swadharma. Now everything I do is cross referenced to my purpose, making it easy to ensure my energy is focused: 

  • Speaking at conferences to business leaders on the need for them to act on the climate crisis ✓
  •  Working with the team at Thornton’s Budgens (my supermarket) to keep developing their Authentic Leadership ✓
  • Helping that team to deliver the first plastic free zones in a UK supermarket (and only the second in the world), demonstrating the benefits on taking action on the climate crisis ✓
  • Running Authentic Leadership programmes for business leaders ✓

And while I still have to work hard to make sure I don’t overcommit and burnout, I am far more focused and effective than I was 10 years ago; my sphere of influence has increased and, so importantly, I am having so much more fun and feel really fulfilled. 

And I know that the ripple effects of what I do will have some impact on the homeless crisis and that there are others whose Swadharma is in this area.  

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