Show and Tell – Helping others reveal their true purpose

by Contributor 0

Do you know how sometimes in your professional life, you have one of those really great days?   The sort of day when you walk away thinking, ‘Yes! That’s why I got into this business in the first place’.  A day when you feel you have made a real difference and will remember in the years to come.

It’s a real privilege, isn’t it?

I remember one such day.  I had been asked to facilitate the dreaded ‘team building’ or ‘away day’ for a group of senior researchers.  I suspected that the group wasn’t looking forward to an overnight stay in the countryside quite as much as I was, but I was really keen to make sure we did something of value and I had a packed and strategically focused agenda prepared.

The ‘team’ were actually a disparate group covering a highly diverse range of academic interests and hadn’t been together for long.  I wanted to create a thinking environment, help them build great relationships and hopefully, a sense of a team or at least a common purpose.  I had one simple request of them for the day.  I asked them to bring along an object/item relating to their life as a researcher which would allow them to do a short ‘show and tell’ about themselves and the work they do.

I arrived early and set up at the venue, a beautiful coach house with comfy couches, a roaring fire and a plentiful supply of coffee and home baking.  And awaited their arrival.

“Did you bring your show and tell?” I asked, half expecting to be disappointed.

But no.  Reaching into various shopping bags and rucksacks, they all retrieved their objects, an interesting array for sure.  A low maintenance water pump that works in the field in developing countries.  A model of the DNA structures relating to Alzheimer’s disease.  A writing set gifted by an inspirational research supervisor in early career.  A syringe kit used in testing athletes.  And most curiously, a sculpture by an avant-garde artist made from a sheet of A4 paper.

Each took it in turns to talk about their object, their career, their work and why research was important to them.  It was inspiring and thought provoking.  Colleagues became immersed in each story, curious to hear more and recognising some common threads that ran through each of the stories.  They asked interesting questions of each other and seemed comfortable sharing feelings on the challenges of being a researcher.   At one point I realised time was flying by.  We had a tight agenda but this was too good to cut short!  A simple little exercise I thought would be a good introduction to the event had become much more.  Our ‘show and tell’ had created a thinking environment in which they could talk about what was important to them and I believe, established a common purpose.

It was a great morning, one in which people felt valued, trusting and comfortable with colleagues.  Sharing their purpose acted as a springboard for the remainder of the event and helped them tackle strategic questions over the course of the event.  And it immediately bonded the group in a way that carried on well into the evening social.  I recommend it as an exercise.


I relate this story not to showcase some brilliance of facilitation but rather, how our environment and conditions influences thinking and I have thought long and hard about why the day-to-day work environment doesn’t always bring out our very best thinking.

I think it comes down to:

  • Time and urgency
  • Attachment to hierarchy, roles, process etc
  • Adherence to agendas (that don’t serve well)
  • Ego or ‘work mask’

Essentially, purpose gets buried in ‘stuff’.

Yet I feel it can be done.  Teams are capable of creating the right environment and though I hate to admit it, might not always need a facilitator to bring out their best.

What if we could spend a bit of time, free from urgency and organisational stuff to reveal more of ourselves and our true purpose?

Imagine spending time with a colleague:

  • Exploring your ‘why’ and what’s important to you
  • Sharing your joint experience
  • Identifying shared challenges
  • Developing trust and building relationships
  • Seeking support and understanding

How valuable would this be to you?

Just asking the question of someone, ‘What’s important to you?’, uncovers a rich seam of dialogue.  I find individuals open up when I ask it and I’ve seen defensive behaviours unravel as people become animated, thoughts and ideas tumbling in a stream of unfiltered consciousness.  It’s a decent question but one that shouldn’t elicit quite the response I’ve had from it.  I can only conclude people have rarely been asked this before.  Which is sad, don’t you think?


Your purpose in life is to find your purpose and give your whole heart and soul to it – Buddha

I really like this quote and find my own purpose within it.  As a coach it’s my job to help  people find that purpose and these days, conscious of my own clock running, I understand the importance of not wasting a moment in pursuing those things that are most important to you.  I want people to have an amazing career or business and I want them to have an amazing life too.  That’s my purpose.

We can really help people by encouraging them to ‘show and tell’ what’s important to them and why.

Everything else is just ‘stuff’.

About the author – John Drysdale is an Executive Coach, Facilitator and Trainer, working mainly in the Higher Education sector.  He leads an ILM accredited centre for training coaches and mentors as well as being a licensed coach for Asentiv © global leaders in relationship development. His next ILM accredited programme starts in the Autumn 2021 and details can be found here.  

John loves to help people be the best they can be and specifically encourages others to create a personal vision that encompasses all aspects of life. He is a musician, a runner and a charity trustee outside of the day job and lives in the beautiful Kingdom of Fife, Scotland.

Twitter @nogurultd