Lead With Purpose

Defining purpose is a straightforward proposition.  In its simplest form, purpose is the organization’s reason for being.  It is a combination of vision, mission, and values.

When organizations succeed, it is because they know what they do, and why they do it.  We say they have “purpose”.  Purpose can be a driving force for an organization to achieve its intended results.  Purpose forms the backbone of what an organization exists to do; upon which you can build vision and mission.  A central challenge for leaders is to bring people together for common cause.  That’s purpose!

Purpose is the “why” behind everything within an organization.  Here is a start to leading with purpose.

1. Make purpose a central focus.  Organizations that succeed are those that know where they are headed and why.  It is up to leaders to use that sense of purpose to shape the destiny of their organizations and leverage the talents of the people on them to achieve intended results.

2. Instill purpose in others.  While it may be a cliché to say that “people matter”, reality dictates that they do indeed matter.  It is important to teach purpose to your people so that they have a sense of what the organization does and the role they play in it.

3. Make agents and managers comfortable with ambiguity.  Purpose can provide clarity in unsettled times.  Having strong purpose can provide the direction that people need to navigate through ambiguity.   

4. Turn good intentions into great results.  The world is tough and people matter, but you still have to get the work done.  Purpose can be an enabling factor that provides the link people need to connect what they do to what the organization needs them to do.  When that happens, your agents and management team can turn ideas into practical applications.

5. Make it safe to fail (as well as prevail).  Purpose is the engine of innovation.  While innovation relies upon creativity for spark, it is purpose that turns ideas into practical concepts.  No Agency will succeed all of the time, but it needs to allow its work force to think and act creatively (and occasionally fail) as a means of preparing the organization to meet new emerging challenges.

6. Develop the next generation.  Savvy organizations are purposeful about how they develop leaders.  They integrate leadership development into how they run their operations.  

7. Prepare yourself.  Purposeful organizations need leaders who know themselves first; that is, they have an inner compass that points them in the right direction.  Such leaders catalyze their own purpose to help their organizations succeed.

In closing, purpose may seem elusive, and it may be tempting to abandon the concept altogether, but consider the alternative: lack of purpose.  This leads to organizational boredom and disinterest.  People may be doing their individual jobs appropriately, but soon each will come to the realization that individual contributions are good, but not great.  What is necessary is to get people to pull together for the common cause.

Leadership Questions:

  • How well have I taught purpose to my team?
  • What can I do to instill clarity of purpose to my team?

Leadership Directives:

  • Describe the purpose of your organization in a single sentence.
  • Make it clear that agents and managers who know the organization’s purpose can do their jobs with a greater sense of awareness of their own contributions. 
  • Link agent/management engagement to organizational effectiveness-that is, people matter.
  • Demonstrate how you find meaning in your own work.  Tell stories about your sources of inspiration. 
  • Challenge people to find purpose in their own work.  Ask managers to discuss purpose regularly at agency meetings.
  • Live the values of the organization.   Abide by your principles.  Stand up for what is right.

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