Tag Archives: Purpose

The Importance of Being Purposeful

This is a refreshed version of a post I wrote in March, 2010

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why-am-I-hereWhen I first came to Vancouver to take up my new role as a Human Resources Consultant with a major bank, my boss and I agreed that I should go on a road trip and meet with as many corporate banking employees as possible. It was sort of an orientation thing for me and perhaps provided a chance for everyone else to give me the “once over”. Coming from Toronto, it seemed I was automatically not to be trusted.

On one occasion, I was to talk with a number of Corporate Account Managers. My intent was to get to know them as individuals; to learn about their ambitions; their challenges; and how we might better support their efforts. It is entirely possible though that I did not adequately declare my goal, because the first person I encountered, pulled his chair very close to mine; stared sharply into my face and said, “I make money for the bank. What do you do?

Aside from the obvious attempt to intimidate me, his question was meant to suggest that as a person who made no direct contribution to the bottom line, whatever my purpose, I was an expense to the organization and consequently, of less value.

This is not an uncommon perspective to take, especially in large organizations. But at the time, I couldn’t help but think  there was something gravely missing from this outlook.

It occurs to me now that “making money for the bank”, while an admirable outcome, did not tell me anything about what this fellow saw as his purpose. And, for me at least, there is something lost when a person seems to view his primary raison d’être as making money.

Please don’t misunderstand me. I like money as well as the next person and there is a primal need to earn it and manage it prudently. But, the purpose of most jobs, or even most businesses is probably not principally about money. It is more than likely something else, something that has to do with providing a service. Making money is an outcome of that. The amount of money earned is usually determined by the quality and consistency of the service delivered and the ability of those who deliver it, to engender loyalty among a growing constituency.

But sometimes I think we forget. We take our eye away from our fundamental purpose and allow ourselves to get fixated on the dollars. And that’s when we risk running afoul of ourselves. We become greedy. We get our priorities out of order. And then we get into trouble.

For instance, there continue to be number of “recall” situations in the automobile industry. Somewhere along the line, I suspect the affected companies have strayed from their fundamental purpose, which to me goes something like; Make good, reliable cars & keep people safe, or something to that effect. It doesn’t have to be complicated. People just have to know what it is and be able to access it when they need to re-focus.

And that is where good leadership is key. People need to know why their jobs exist; whom they are there to serve; and how it all fits together.

I think this is so because…

It helps us in making good decisions and prioritizing appropriately.

If we train ourselves to ask the question; How will doing this, (or not doing this) help me to serve my purpose? The answer will often give us the information we need to move forward.

It helps us when we tackle problems.

Often problems can start to build on each other and become so complex that we get lost in them. When this happens, it sometimes helps to get back to the basic questions like;  What is my main purpose and who am I here to serve?

It helps us stay connected to the overall purpose of the organization.

Knowing why our jobs exist and how they fit into the bigger picture makes it easier to stay focused on what’s important.

It gives value to every role in the organization, not just a few.

If you nurture a culture that identifies the purpose and value of each job in relation to the overall vision and to each other, everyone in the organization has an opportunity to feel important.

It promotes good stewardship.

If we are clear about our purpose, it is that much easier to recognize and fulfill our responsibilities to those we serve.

That’s what I think anyway.  What do you think?

Oh, and here’s an afterthought for you to chew on…or not.

I tend to be an idealist and often write about the way things “should be” but I find myself having to acknowledge that some people actually see “making money” as their primary purpose, and no kind of proof to the contrary could convince them otherwise. 
However, for most of us anyway, a purpose like that is too fragile and volatile to sustain and build on over time with the consequences of the ups and downs such a purpose suggests being way too heavy for most people to endure.

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Filed under Establishing Direction, Leadership, Leadership Development, Organizational Effectiveness

A Look at the Bones of Leadership…With the Iron Lady

This post from February 2012 considers four essential leadership requirements, looking through the lens of a woman who, over the course of her life was both loved and hated… but will never be forgotten.

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Margaret Thatcher.  This name means different things to different people.  Some vilify her for her uncompromising approach. Others praise her for the same reason.

Whatever side of the fence you may fall with respect to Mrs Thatcher’s time as Prime Minister of Great Britain, there is one indisputable truth.  Margaret Thatcher was a leader.

If you gather that the subject of this post began with a trip to the movies, you would be right.  Meryl Streep’s riveting performance in The Iron Lady  did indeed give rise to my curiosity and deeper thought about what lies in the bones of leadership

There are four things that come to mind

Abiding Purpose

Margaret Thatcher was driven by an abiding purpose to preserve the British way of life and restore its reputation on the world stage.  All else came in a distant second.  For many, how she went about fulfilling that purpose remains the source of great controversy.  Some people, who were negatively and personally affected by her decisions, may never forgive her for the change she brought to their lives.  Others will hold her up without hesitation as Britain’s savior at a time of great turmoil and indecision.  Regardless of the perspective, Mrs Thatcher seems to have always known what she was there to do and why it was important to do it.

Courage

The courage required of a world leader, like Margaret Thatcher is the kind of courage that compelled her to stand up in the face of great opposition and fight for what she believed.  Sometimes she fought alone.  But, she did it anyway because it was important and because as leader, it was her job to take risks and make decisions others shrank from.

Vulnerability

The bigger the job the more exposed is the leader.  When you make the kind of decisions that affect people’s lives, some will love you for it.  Some will not.   The business of leadership is not primarily about making friends. It is about challenging the status quo; helping others see what you see and changing something.  It invites criticism and sometimes, treachery.

Humility

Humility is not about being soft or weak nor is it about lacking confidence. Humility can sometimes roar. A truly humble leader will know exactly what she has to offer to the world, so much so that she will use all the precious time at her disposal to focus outwardly, on her goals and doing whatever it takes to accomplish them.  Margaret Thatcher once said, “ In my day, we would resolve to do something. Now, they resolve to be someone” 

If you are here, chances are you are not a World leader. So, you may ask; what does all of this have to do with me? Well, I think these four core leadership elements apply to everyone who wants to make a difference.  In a way, no matter if you run a small business, a large corporation, or  want to be the best parent you can be, it comes down to this:

  • The road to success is paved with intention.  Know your purpose and know, too, why it’s important
  • No matter what you do, the decisions you make will not please everyone.  Don’t waste your time trying.  Some will love you.  Some will not.  In the end, it rarely matters. In times of doubt, be guided by your purpose.
  • Be brave.  Make change.  Put strength behind your convictions.  Challenge complacency. Invite participation, discussion and involvement.
  • Know that rarely is anything about you.

The movie showed Baroness Thatcher, as she was near the end of her life, not very well and suffering from dementia.  Some have criticized the decision to show this.  To me though, it illustrates only too clearly that power diminishes and when all is said and done, we are  left with only ourselves.

That’s what I think anyway. What do you think?

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Filed under Leadership, Leadership Development

Leadership and the Importance of Being Purpose-Driven

This is a refreshed version of a post from March 2010.

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When I first came to Vancouver to take up my new role as a Human Resources Consultant with a major bank, my boss and I agreed that I should go on a road trip and meet with as many corporate banking employees as possible.  It was sort of an orientation thing for me and provided a chance for everyone else to give me the “once over”. Coming from Toronto, it seemed I was automatically not to be trusted.

On one occasion, I was to talk with a number of Corporate Account Managers.  My objective was to get to know them as individuals; to learn about their ambitions; their challenges; and how we might better support their efforts.  It is entirely possible though that I did not adequately declare my intent, because the first person I encountered, pulled his chair very close to mine; stared sharply into my face and said, “I make money for the bank.  What do you do?”

Aside from the obvious attempt to intimidate me, his question was meant to suggest that as a person who made no direct contribution to the bottom line, whatever my function, I was an expense to the organization and thus a liability.

This is not an uncommon perspective to take, especially in large organizations.  But at the time, I couldn’t help but think that there was something gravely missing from this outlook.

It occurs to me now that “making money for the bank”, while an admirable outcome, did not tell me anything about what this fellow saw as his purpose.  And, for me at least, there is something lost when a person seems to view his primary raison d’être as making money.

Please don’t misunderstand me.  I like money as well as the next person and there is a primal need to earn it and manage it prudently.  But, the purpose of most jobs, even most businesses, is probably not principally about money.  It is more than likely something else, something that has to do with providing a service, with making money as an outcome of that. The amount of money earned is usually determined by the quality and consistency of the service delivered and the ability of those who deliver it, to build loyal business relationships.

But sometimes I think we forget.  We take our eye away from our fundamental purpose and allow ourselves to get fixated on the dollars.  That’s when we risk running afoul of ourselves.  We get greedy.  We get miserly. We get our priorities out of order. And then we get into trouble.

So to me, helping people understand and believe in the organizational purpose is Job One. And, part of this is ensuring they know why their jobs exist; whom they are there to serve; and how what they do fits with the overall vision of the organization.

Here are a few of the benefits that can be realized from taking a purpose-driven approach:

It helps us make good decisions and prioritize appropriately. If we train ourselves to ask the question, how will doing this, (or not doing this) help me serve my purpose? The answer will often give us the information we need to move forward.

It helps us resolve problems.  Often problems can build on each other and become so complex that we get lost in them. When this happens, it sometimes helps to get back to the basic questions like, what is my main purpose and who am I here to serve?

It gives value to every role in the organization, not just a few. If you nurture a culture that identifies the purpose and value of each job in relation to the overall vision and to each other, everyone in the organization has an opportunity to feel part of something important.  When that happens people are more likely to do their best work.

It promotes good stewardship. If we are clear about our purpose, it is that much easier to recognize and fulfill our responsibilities to those we serve.

That’s what I think anyway.  What do you think?

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Filed under Employee engagement, Leadership, Leadership Development, NOWLeadership

Corporate Culture: 10 Elements That Help Drive Results

Recently, in the National Post, there was a whole section dedicated to Canada’s most admired corporate cultures.  In it was highlighted some very successful, vibrant companies, diverse in their business interests but with many themes in common. These themes reinforced my belief that success in any enterprise relies on its ability to bring people together and extract from them their best work, not through rules, policies, processes and bottom line focus but by creating cultures that invite participation .  It is from this softer, yet more difficult perspective that these companies drive results.

So, what does this “softer” perspective look like?  Well, as I read through the variety of articles on offer, I picked up ten elements that figure prominently in the cultures of these highly successful organizations.   Here they are:

Clarity of Vision and Values ~ This of course, comes up every time.  Most companies have some kind of vision statement and a published set of organizational values.  Not all actually use them as their guiding force.   And not all faithfully model the values they espouse.  Creating clarity about what business you are in; where you see it going; and how you intend to get there is a critical ingredient in everything else you do.  That’s the philosophy Claude Mongeau, CEO of CN Rail, has embraced and it has proven to be highly effective.

Respect and Civility ~ Eckler Ltd, an actuarial consulting firm has a simple but powerful mantra.  “Treat people like adults

This company has high expectations of its workforce.  They hold themselves and each other accountable for the commitments they make while limiting the number of rules and policies they enforce.  Operating from a platform of respect and civility seems like such a simple thing to do and yet its potential for making productive conversations easier is enormous.

Learning and Growth ~ In highly successful companies learning, growth and development is not just a nice to do thing.  It forms part of the fabric of the organization and as such is not the first thing to get cut from the budget when times get a little tight.  Companies like Medavie Blue Cross see it as a critical part of ensuring a solid future for the company and everyone in it.

Service Before Selling~  Arthur Mesher is CEO of Descartes Systems, a Software Company in Waterloo Ontario.  When he first joined the firm, he noticed that people were not delivering on their commitments.  Theirs was a ‘sales’ culture that seemed to leave the customer out of the equation.  Mr Mesher recognized the limitations of the sales philosophy and the ineffective practices that went along with it.  And so he went about shifting the focus, away from sales numbers toward the achievement of customer satisfaction first and foremost.  This shift, while financially painful at first, now reflects the wisdom of the new maxim of service before selling in 2012 results any organization could be proud of.

Collaboration ~ Ray Kroc, Founder of McDonald’s Restaurants once said, “ None of us is as good as all of us”

This has formed the basis for McDonald’s organizational culture, which continues to value and build on collaborative relationships with its employees, franchisees and suppliers.

Social Responsibility ~ In today’s world, establishing roots in the community is an essential part of building a successful business.  Those who participate through sponsorships and volunteerism build a rich environment that people want to be a part of.  Organizations like McDonald’s, CIBC and Camp Oochigeas (a camp for children with cancer) are a testament to this.

Balance ~ When you treat people like adults, you also give them flexibility to find their own formula for delivering on their company commitments.  As Stuart Suls, CEO of Mr. Lube puts it, “ You only have one life.  It’s up to employers to give people the space to balance things out”

Simplicity of purpose ~ Being able to state your organizational purpose as simply as possible provides great clarity especially in hard times.  For instance, at the North York General Hospital, the CEO, Tim Rutledge expresses his organizational purpose in a way everyone can understand.  It goes something like: To make people better; keep them safe ; and give them timely access to care.  Everything else can flow from that.

Innovation and Finding a Place for Failure~ At Cineplex Inc., CEO Ellis Jacob says, “ I would rather you try something and fail, and learn from it than never try at all”

This is a tenet that so many have difficulty with because it can be costly.  But, in today’s world an essential ingredient to success is risk… and sometimes failure.  So taking a more positive perspective on failure is becoming increasingly important.

Diversity and Inclusion ~ This is a common theme among many of the companies recognized as having corporate cultures to admire and emulate.  There is, after all great richness in the diverse talents, skills and experience people bring to work every day.  Organizations who make the best use of their available resources tend to challenge their own assumptions, suspend judgement and invite a wide variety of people to take an active part in their present and future.

There are of course other themes that exemplify workplaces with much admired corporate cultures. But, if you are starting a new business or are working to effect change in your own organization this might be a place to start.  It couldn’t hurt.

That’s what I think anyway.  What do you think?

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Filed under Employee engagement, Leadership, Management, organizational Development, Organizational Effectiveness, Uncategorized

Getting Back to Work ~ What Motivates Us

For me, the end of summer brings on mixed feelings.   At the end of last summer, I wrote this post. For me, it bears repeating.  I hope you will agree.

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I hate to say it…but I will.  Summer is coming to a close.  It feels a little sad saying adios to the hazy, crazy, sometimes lazy days of summer.  And yet, to me, there is always a ‘new start’ feeling about September.  I guess it must be that, for most people, summer vacation is over and it’s time to get back to work.

Some of us will approach this prospect with enthusiasm and some, well, some will spend time singing the back to work blues.

As a leader, it is reasonable to assume that you would prefer the enthusiasm option to the blues option.  But, like everything else, you’ll likely have to work for it.

So here’s a reminder from Daniel Pink about what truly motivates people to do their best work, (post vacation or otherwise) and it has nothing to do with money.   In fact, according to Pink, (and intuitively, I agree) there are three things that, in combination, will charge our batteries and get us happily moving forward.  Here they are:

Autonomy ~ freedom to, independently or with others of our choosing, work creatively and produce something we can be proud of.

Mastery ~ opportunities to learn, grow and build on our interests, knowledge and abilities

Purpose ~ Connecting to something greater than ourselves that we can believe in and strive to fulfill.

Here is a wonderful RSA Animate production called Drive: the Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us.  It is ten minutes long but, for any leader, is worth the time to see because it gets to the heart of what motivates us.

This presentation suggests to me that to keep the effects of lethargy (whenever it may arise) from diminishing our activity and blurring our focus, we must find ways to emphasize or integrate the principles of autonomy, mastery and purpose into our everyday work life.

With this in mind, here are some questions for you, as leader, to consider:

Autonomy:

Given the nature of your business, how might you provide opportunity for people to work autonomously?

How flexible are you when it comes to work arrangements?

What would happen if you were to make each person’s operational framework larger and allow more independence? What might it look like?

What would you need to make it work?  What would you have to do to fill that need?  What would others have to do?

Mastery: What opportunities do you provide for people to get better at what they do?

How do you approach development planning?

How do you acknowledge accomplishment?

What value do you place on curiosity, risk and learning?

What are you willing to try, to allow your people a chance for growth and greater contribution?

If you were to take what you are doing now to increase peoples’ level of mastery and multiply it by two, what would it look like? What do you anticipate would be the outcome?

Purpose: What purpose does your organization serve?

Does everyone in your organization know it? Understand it? Believe in it?

How often do you remind people of your organizational purpose?

How do you help them make the connection between what they do and how they contribute to the fulfillment of the purpose?

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There will of course be other questions that come up for you but the point is, there are times when this notion of achieving a working environment that values autonomy, mastery and purpose requires some active consideration.

I just happen to think that the autumn, (when we tend to need time to cast fresh eyes on our life and work), is one of those times.

What do you think?

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Filed under Employee engagement, Establishing Direction, Leadership, Leadership Development, Leading Teams, motivating & Inspiring, Uncategorized

Encouraging Dreams

When I first sat down to write today, I didn’t really know what I was going to write about but my mind kept drifting off toward Homer Hickam Jr. and the power of dreams.  So I guess I’m meant to write about that.

Homer Hickam is the main subject of a movie entitled October Sky, which in turn was based on Homer’s memoir Rocket Boys. Basically, it’s about his life growing up in a small mining town in West Virginia and his dreams about, and devotion to, rocketry.

It was a time when the notion of space flight was a fanciful one, especially for those who made their living in a coal mine.   In spite of that, the impact of hearing and reading about Sputnik, the first artificial satellite launched into space, was enough to inform Homer, from somewhere deep within him, that he had found his purpose.

Homer Hickam is a lucky guy.  I say that because I rather think that many of us flounder around a bit when it comes to being really sure of our purpose.  And, I suspect that unlike Homer, our purpose does not present itself in such a blindingly obvious way.  Well, at least that’s the way it is for me.

But dreams are important.  They’re important because they have a way of leading us to our purpose and each dream realized, each purpose fulfilled, makes a difference to a life, to a community, and even to the world.  And, I can’t think about that without thinking about Terry Fox.

Terry Fox had a dream.  He dreamed about a cure for cancer. He believed in his dream so much that he ran over three thousand miles on an artificial leg to raise funds for cancer research.  Even though Terry didn’t finish his run, he fulfilled his purpose and his dream lives on, long after his death.  That’s what dreams can do…outlive us.  There’s something quite wondrous about that.

Some might think that dreaming has little to do with reality, but dreams become reality if we do the work. And, I think there are two conditions that make the conversion of dream to reality possible:

One is, we have to want it badly enough to do what it takes to make it real

The Road to fulfillment is always fraught with challenge. If a dream is worth it, it is also worth fighting for. Other people may get in the way.  Fear can put us in our own way but, if we want it badly enough, none of that matters in the end.

And secondly, we have to make sure that the dream is really ours and not something, someone else wants for us.

Sometimes, when we are trying to figure out our purpose or find a dream we can make our own, we can slip into someone else’s view of what it looks like.  Sometimes this can be a convenient way of getting on with our lives.  Someone else’s dream though, no matter how magnificent it might be, is often like a suit of clothes that doesn’t quite fit and isn’t as comfortable as we’d like, no matter how good it might look on us.

Leadership is about dreaming too.  After all, if leadership were about maintaining the status quo, we wouldn’t need it.  We’d only need management. So dreams are frequently the beginning of new adventures and are about the pursuit of something that calls to us from within and makes us want to change, or be, something else or something more.

Dreams help us define our purpose. At least that’s how it was for Homer Hickam Jr. and Terry Fox. What do you think?

 

 

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Filed under Leading Change, Learning, motivating & Inspiring