Providing a Clear Picture of Their Purpose

Earlier, we looked at how important it is for anyone in a leadership role to paint a clear picture of the organizational purpose they’re working toward so each member of their teams could have something tangible to connect with. While that was a broad reference that I only touched on in passing as we wrapped up our look at why each leader needs an extremely clear purpose of their own, it’s time for us to take a very specific look at how we provide every individual we lead with a clear picture of their own purpose - especially since the steps for verbalizing their purpose based on what they’ve told us and shown us are so fresh in our minds!

As I detailed the importance of learning to really know each person we lead, I shared how Pat Lencioni defined anonymity in The Truth About Employee Engagement and why it’s critical that we invest our time and energy into recognizing what makes them tick. Now let’s consider the other two things Lencioni said contribute to a miserable job; irrelevance and immeasurability.

He explained the irrelevance this way:

Everyone needs to know that their job matters, to someone. Anyone. Without seeing a connection between the work and the satisfaction of another person or group of people, an employee simply will not find lasting fulfillment. Even the most cynical employees need to know that their work matters to someone, even if it’s just the boss.

Pat went on to share this about immeasurability:

Employees need to be able to gauge their progress and level of contribution for themselves. They cannot be fulfilled in their work if their success depends on the opinions or whims of another person, no matter how benevolent that person may be. Without a tangible means for assessing the success or failure, motivation eventually deteriorates as people see themselves as unable to control their own fate.

I certainly agree that eliminating each of those three causes of job misery can be significant in earning employee engagement - the kind that leads to a 57% increase in discretionary effort and a 20% uptick in individual productivity - but I believe the steps we take in doing so can have every bit as much impact on providing our team members with a clear picture of their own purpose - which can help them achieve fulfillment in all aspects of their lives. Once we understand what truly matters to them, and we recognize how we best connect our message to those things they care most about, we can articulate the relevance of their work in the exact way that will mean the most to them. In doing that, we have the opportunity to show them how much of a difference they truly make.

The Pursuit of… Purpose!

Over the years, I’ve referenced the preamble to the Declaration of Independence numerous times in articles on our website as well as lessons in our Leading At The Next Level program. Just in case it’s not fresh in your mind, I’ll share it once more here - directly from the National Archives website:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.

I’ve seen numerous articles expanding on the “all men are created equal” piece; some making the case that women were indeed included in their original intent and others expanding on how our Founding Fathers could have ever made such a statement while slavery was a common practice in the colonies they were attempting to transform into a sovereign nation. Since I’ve addressed both in other writings, and since I only share that here as a tie back to a leader’s responsibility to provide a clear picture of purpose for each member of their team, I want you to consider something else entirely from that preamble… What do you think those Founding Fathers pictured as “the pursuit of Happiness”?

Do you think the fifty-six signers of the Declaration of Independence risked their lives, fortunes, and sacred honor for a dream of hopping on their horse at the end of an eight-hour day and galloping down a busy trail so they could sit on their rocking chair, listening to some flute music while they sipped a pint of ale? I realize that’s a strange example, but it’s as close as I could come up with to driving home through rush hour traffic to flop down in the recliner with a fruity craft beer and scroll through Wastebook with Netflix on for background noise. I can’t imagine the first example fitting their vision for happiness any more than I can picture the best people on our teams today being motivated to go beyond the call of duty for the second. As I mentioned before, great people - then and now - want to be part of something that matters!

As leaders, we’re in a very unique spot where we have daily opportunities to help each member of our teams recognize how the work they do individually as well as the work we do throughout the entire organization impacts the customers and clients we serve and the communities we’re a part of. When we can effectively detail that impact (providing relevance) in a way they can see how each activity they’re responsible for contributes (adding measurability), we may actually create a desire to do more than rush home to the recliner; we might just help in their pursuit of purpose! But connecting their purpose to the work they do or what our organization needs to achieve will take some very intentional effort.

Purpose in Every Role

Early on in this look at Leading With a Clear Purpose, I shared examples of close friends who have dedicated (and risked) their lives through careers serving others; military, fire, and law enforcement. In detailing those, I even provided some average starting wages for police officers and firefighters beginning their careers in Virginia - around $50k. As a quick side note, each of the friends I referred to in that example have recently shared the cost of getting a new recruit up to speed in their respective fields. One a Deputy Fire Chief in a large county and the other a Police Chief in a sizable town nearby, both estimated the price tag involved with training someone fresh out of their respective academies to be around $100,000!

I’ve been involved in filling no less than a thousand positions for the organizations I’ve worked directly for or supported in some way over the last decade and a half so I’ve learned just how critical it can be to weed out the pretenders before they accept a position. Even then, there are still some that just never get up to speed before leaving the organization they recently joined. With so much training expense involved in preparing a firefighter or police officer, I’d do everything in my power to talk them into pursuing another career before I ever started discussing the perceived benefits that come with either role; I’ve been very intentional about doing the same for positions that require far less upfront training to get someone up to speed so doing it when such a high price tag is involved seems like a no-brainer!

There’s been one common theme with all of the great people I’ve known who have dedicated their lives to careers in the military, law enforcement, and fire safety; they’ve been absolutely locked onto the impact they make, individually and through the organizations they’ve been a part of. They’ve all had extreme clarity around a definite (relevant) purpose. And they’ve been able to track how every bit of their work has contributed to achieving that purpose, making it very measurable

The best leaders I’ve known in each of those fields aren’t the ones who paint the shiniest picture of the work their teams do each day. If anything, most of them have been fairly candid about the hard knocks involved in what they do. But what I have seen is them being extremely intentional about making sure the individuals they lead recognize the positive difference they’re making through all the challenges they deal with. They’re always sure to call attention to how each team members’ performance is making a difference as well as how the entire group they lead is doing work that matters; they speak to each individual’s purpose and to the overall organizational purpose.

While Cindy and I have had the privilege of working with some amazing people in each of those areas, the vast majority of our time is with leaders in the private sector. The compensation for essentially every comparable role is nearly always higher and the risks involved rarely stack up against what the fields I just mentioned deal with in just training. With that in mind, I’ll emphasize once more that it ain’t just about the pay; purpose always matters! The challenge in many private sector roles is that it can be harder to draw a straight line to a definite purpose, especially when it feels like we’re churning through the same routine on a daily basis. As a leader in that kind of scenario, we’ll need to work even harder to connect what feels like monotony to a relevant purpose that can be easily measured so we’ll begin working through that soon!