A local example of the power of purpose

I received a few private messages on my article last week discussing how to create a leadership umbrella. In this article, I was reviewing Dan Cable’s excellent HBR article entitled Why People Lose Motivation — and What Managers Can Do to Help. Specifically, I was discussing how a leadership umbrella can create a “safe zone” for your team to nurture Self Expression, Experimentation and Purpose. Based on the comments I have received; I thought for this week I will lean in a bit on purpose.

Finding a sense of purpose in the work that I do is critical for me to operate at the top of my game. I think this is true for all of us. Moreover, this is where having a leader who embodies the purpose of the organization can be amazingly powerful. According to Sally Blount’s and Paul Leinwand’s recent strategy HBR article entitled “Why Are We Here?”:

“Over the past decade, ‘purpose’ has become a management watchword. Since 2010 it has appeared in the titles of more than 400 new business and leadership books and thousands of articles. And no wonder: Many people—not just Millennials—want to work for organizations whose missions and business philosophies resonate with them intellectually and emotionally.”

Blount and Leinward go on to discuss great purpose driven organizations including IKEA, Lego and Danaher, among others who have clear purpose statements and leaders who live them every day.

But how can we learn from these examples and bring them to our teams, big or small, corporate or volunteer?


First, we need to clearly articulate the purpose of our endeavor. Let’s use a volunteer example from my past as it describes a small team and is easily understandable (no multi-geo, multi-business unit transformations here). Last year, I volunteered to support my daughter’s 8th grade graduation. In the core team were six people across different walks of life. One of the six of us was tasked to be our leader. She organized a kickoff meeting and provided handouts that clearly articulated the purpose of our project; to deliver a fantastic graduation event for our graduates, their families and the staff of the school. This was simple, but I often have been part of teams that do not clearly articulate their purpose and suffer as a result.

Next, Blount and Leinward state that you need to build an organization that delivers on your purpose. To do this, leaders need to:

1) Be the magnet for the right talent
2) Connect with intention across boundaries
3) Invest behind your purpose
4) Make sure your leaders model your purpose

Let’s take these in turn with my volunteer example.


Be the magnet for the right talent

When I went to the first meeting, I was curious to meet the other volunteers and the leader. They all had different backgrounds: a consultant, a marketing expert, a caterer, a homemaker, a paramedic and or leader a non-profit consultant. We were in turn assigned to different roles overseeing flowers, photos, seating and tickets, refreshments, programs and decorations.

Why was this team assembled? What I learned later is that our leader, as a result of being dialed into the community, encouraged (and in some cases nudged) each of us to take roles that she knew fit our skill-sets.


Connect with the intention across boundaries

Here, Blount and Leinward speak about the importance of building cross functional teams. In my volunteer example, the nature of us coming together was definitely cross functional. In order to fulfill our sense of purpose towards creating a fantastic graduation, we also needed to pull in contractors and other volunteers to meet the objectives of our sub-teams and report back to the core team. This way, our leader could adjust her focus to support the sub-teams that got stuck (as we all have experienced from time-to time ourselves) along the way.


Invest behind your purpose

Blount and Leinward state that leaders should: “invest more than your competitors so that you can deliver the value you promise.” For us, the investment was not financial, but rather an investment of time. I assure you, it’s a lengthy process to coordinate hundreds of families. The weather, the school administration, and various sub-contractors are all factors that must be considered. Our leader, buy leading as an example, set the tone of the project and kept us all focused on delivering the outcome.


Make sure your leaders model your purpose

I would summarize this area as “bleeding the company colors”, in our case blue and gold. Here, as mentioned above, our leader really embodied the purpose of creating a fantastic experience. Things did not always go smoothly, but our shared commitment towards the team’s purpose brought the project outcome to a great success. Indeed, we did deliver a fantastic experience for all involved.


Reflecting on this example, great leadership can be seen in large- and small-scale projects in our work and personal lives. Articles written and accolades given often focus on the big projects, but it is team and project of all sizes that can benefit from excellent purpose driven leaders. I know that I did personally value some great leadership in my local volunteer project.

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