In accepting the noble and dangerous assignment of investigating and exposing truths for Mikki-Leaks, my promise to you, my readers, has been to provide the information you need to know on a need to know basis, with hopes that I may help you become heroic business leaders. So what do you need to know about having a purpose or knowing as much about “why” you lead as “how” you lead others?
It’s easy to dismiss the “need” for a clear sense of purpose driving our businesses as the fodder of self-help books and the mumbo-jumbo of self-proclaimed business gurus. No person or business ever became successful by simply writing a vision or mission statement. How we think may be critical to how we perform, but the idea that we “Think and Grow Rich” is no more plausible than believing that hope is a viable strategy.
I believe it is clear that nothing worth accomplishing has ever been achieved without the dedication of hard work, commitment and, like it or not, some luck. So why, then, does having a deep sense of purpose make a difference in achieving your best or realizing your potential? How is having a purpose all that different from hoping for the best?
I would address the question by suggesting that purpose is what aligns our thinking with the necessary action to be taken. Purpose links directly to planning. In fact, it is what guides our plans. Without purpose the actions we take tend to be random or misguided. Luck becomes a more needed ingredient in accomplishing what we set out to do. But leading with purpose we can understand what we need to “be” in order to do what needs to be done. In other words the characteristics that enable us to plan for what we want to happen, plan around what we do not want to happen and even plan for the unexpected, all come from understanding the purpose behind our actions.
On a day-to-day basis, what we plan are simple decisions we make by habit. A good example could be when to have lunch and what to eat. The simple purpose is to make sure there is time to grab a bite and then decide based on what you feel like or would prefer to eat, or sometimes just what is simply convenient to our circumstances. I don’t really feel like eating my yogurt but don’t have time to go out and get a sandwich. Or I don’t have time to sit down and have a sensible, healthy lunch so I’ll whip through the McDonalds drive-through and eat while driving to my appointment.
Having a greater purpose provides further guidance. Rather than a Pavlovian reaction to it, either by the fact that it's noon or simply that we feel hunger (followed by stuffing our face with either whatever is convenient or tempting), we might instead determine that eating is really about health and nutrition. A Big Mac, fries and a Coke would solve the hunger, and perhaps be an efficient use of time but not be at all efficacious if the purpose driving my thinking about lunch suggests that I need more than fat and empty calories. In fact, I might prefer to stay hungry than make a poor choice based on how I see the need for a mid-day meal to “perform.” Or, I might even be prepared with some healthy choices packed with me in my car for just such circumstances.
The same is true with every set of choices and decisions we face. We can up the level of performance only when we have a clear idea of what is truly important. That translates into understanding not only the purpose of our actions but what it is we ultimately intent to achieve or accomplish. This is efficacy.
There really can be little doubt that for your company, or any company, to sustain a high level of performance there must be a driving force. That driving force is a matter of leadership. For leaders to perform in a highly effective manner, you must connect to some sense of purpose and then be able to instill that purpose into the DNA or the habits of the organization. The greater the purpose is, the stronger the driving force will be.
It is imperative to separate cause and effect when thinking about purpose. Making money or profits is not the purpose-driven cause - it is the consequence of having accomplished something that is ideally valuable and hopefully worthwhile.Knowing why your company is designed to do whatever you do is the foundation of purpose. The more noble the purpose, the less the possibility that the cause is contrived. In fact, the greatest causes tend not to be had by people - people tend to be had by them. The cause has its teeth in the leader of the organization and she cannot shake its grasp. That might be a lofty notion and I am not suggesting that success in what we do requires that kind of passionate engagement with a cause but I am quite certain that to improve your company’s performance, and yield greater profits as a result, you must have a sense of purpose beneath your feet and in front of the people you lead. Once you have defined your purpose and the purpose for your organization - you can then fully define your role and the role of your employees in accomplishing whatever it is you do. This is the key to driving the highest level of real performance possible. It may be the single key to unlock the greatest potential of yourself, your people and your organizations.
My purpose now is to adjust my disguise and slip effortlessly out of sight in search of the next thing you need to know.
Recommended Additional Reading: Harvard Business Review published a piece by Nick Craig and Scott Snook titled “From Purpose to Impact.” It is available at www.HBR.org. It furthers the thinking as to why “purpose” is vital to any organization’s success in wonderful and explicit detail.
Phil Liebman is a Vistage Group Chair, a Fellow at the Thayer Institute for Leadership Virtuosity and the Founder of the BullFrog Group - helping CEOs become better leaders. You can reach him by email at phil@Strat.com - or by phone at 845.262.8611i: LinkedIn