Hardly a day goes by that I do not read about companies, organizations and individuals exploring their purpose. I read about them exploring their reason for being and how it shapes who they are and what they do. And with good reason.

No leader of an organization is ever leading just themselves. They are always leading people, and teams of people. They are leading formal and informal tribes of people working together towards common goals.

Purpose and Leadership

So let me ask you some questions as a leader:

  • Do you have a refined purpose for your company? A purpose that shouts to your whole company who you serve and what you serve them with. Why your company’s product or service matters. What your values are in fulfilling on that overarching company purpose. A purpose that is so clear that if you and other top leaders are not present, the company is working towards fulfilling that purpose as if on autopilot.
  • Now how about the people inside your company? Let’s be practical and break them into groups:
    • Your leadership team. Do you as CEO or a high up leader know what the purposes are that drive your key management team? Money? Success? Growth? Being part of something bigger than themselves? What default behaviors will people revert to once the company slogans and company cool aid is done?
    • Your staff at the lower levels. What are their purposes as individuals, or within their teams? Who drives the purposes of teams, and who ensures that the purpose of a team on level 3 is directly tied with the purpose on level 2, which is directly tied to the purpose lived out on level 1?
    • How do your teams at similar levels combine to fulfill the overall purpose, not just the goals within their silos? (Test your team: ask someone in accounting how well the production team is doing, and why that is good or bad.)

Finding a Common Purpose

So now for the scary question – how much overlap is there between:

  • the purposes of the individuals, and the purpose of the company?
  • between your teams collectively, and the purpose of the company?
  • between your company managers and leaders within their groups, as individuals? What if one leader’s purpose is growth and success, and another’s is employment stability and emotional safety? You will perpetually have multiple personality symptoms. There will be situations where the left side of the company wants to grow and take risks, while the right side is holding back, avoiding risk and trying to make things calm and safe.

Every day people start their working lives with their own purposes at play. Yet if by some miracle you were able to identify the true purposes of your people as individuals, you will find what motivates them, what brings them back to work. You will identify those key areas that they will default back to in the absence of other clear direction from leaders. The most unmotivated individual still lives for something, even if that motivation is only to eat and have somewhere to sleep at night.

A Challenge for Leaders

So here is a challenge for leaders: forget about goals and objectives for just a little bit. Instead, focus on finding out the purposes, motivations and driving values of your key staff. Take them for coffee, find out about their family, find out what their dreams, fears, and aspirations are. What are their hobbies? What excites them and what stifles their ability to make a fantastic contribution?

Start with just that top level for now. I am not suggesting you become their emotional coach, but find out what drives them. Explore together how you can build a company that is able to activate that internal motivation and drive from people who can share your company’s purpose. More people inside your company will be working towards achieving your company’s goals automatically, without you even having to set goals in front of them. Because more of their will overlap with the company’s.

Leaders Must Bridge the Gap

Maybe more leadership-by-walking-around and management-by-asking-important-questions is required. Some people may not share your company’s purpose at all. In that case, either the company has to adapt or the employee needs to go and apply their own purpose elsewhere. We are disconnected emotionally and relationally because we are hyper-connected digitally. And only humans can bridge this gap, no one else can. And this requires leadership.

So my challenge to you is to go and find ways to unleash the ‘human-ness’ of your people. And to find a common ground so that your company, and everyone in it, can do fantastic work for your market.

Are you ready to build a future-ready company?

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