The Power of a Definite Purpose

To this point, we’ve looked at how important it is for each of us to lead with a clear purpose, I’ve challenged you to really consider why you do what you do, and we’ve worked through some ideas we can each apply to intentionally design love and purpose into our routines. That said, each of those have been mostly focused on our thought process with a splash of practicality mixed in. Now it’s time to roll our sleeves up and get some shit done!

I’m frequently asked why Cindy and I have chosen to do what we do. And that single question has A LOT of different answers! Sometimes the person is really asking “how are y’all able to work together and stay married?” Other times, it’s more about “why were you willing to take the risk of going into business for yourselves?” And every now and then, the person asking actually wants to know how we landed on the specific space we work in. As you can probably imagine, I’ve learned to make sure I understand what someone actually wants to know before I rattle off a dissertation covering all my views on life and the world we live in (because not many people are prepared for that tinfoil hat soapbox talk)...

Before we wrap up our complete look at the importance of leading with a clear purpose, both for ourselves as well as for each individual we lead, I’ll get very specific in sharing mine; not because I think it’s something any other person needs to rally around but because I want to provide you with clarity of how you can develop your own - and how it can evolve over time. For now though, I’ll share this brief perspective… 

Cindy and I recently visited with her aunt and uncle in North Carolina. Cindy and her aunt have always been close but they hadn’t seen one another in person since Cindy’s mom, her aunt’s older sister, passed away over six years ago. While the trip wasn’t anything extravagant, we didn’t have to get vacation days approved in advance. We had several projects to wrap up before to leaving but we simply blocked several days on our calendars about 45 days prior to the trip. Being able to drive Cindy to and from, mixing in a dash of business along the way there and back, was more than a little fulfilling!

Before I go on, I need to clarify something… Cindy is certainly capable of driving herself, I just didn’t want her to have to make the trip alone. And she realized quite some time ago that I’m going to drive from whatever spot I occupy in the car so I just as well be behind the wheel!

Another response I give to that relatively vague question, once I identify what the person is really asking, goes a bit deeper. As I write this, Cindy is getting our taxes prepared for our CPA to work his magic. (I’ll fight the urge to lash out here about how much I hate our tax system and how our gubermint fails miserably in being even mediocre stewards of the money they pillage from those of us who actually do contribute.) Based on the initial numbers, 2023 was our best year in business to date, but our total revenue (not profit) was still far less than our taxable household income the least year we both held full time positions. So when that question is really asking how we landed on the specific space we’re working in and the approach we’ve chosen to take, the answer is incredibly easy for me to provide but often difficult for many to understand.

In the foreword to The Master Key to Riches, Napoleon Hill says, “We have never yet found a truly happy person who was not engaged in some form of service by which others were benefited. And we do know many who are wealthy in material things, but have not found happiness.” Simply put, I know firsthand how much the work we do can impact every aspect of anyone’s life who is not only willing to listen but willing to engage and apply the tools we’ve built to their own role - whether they’re leading others in that moment or not! I can say that with confidence because I know how much it’s impacted my life and career over the last twenty-five years. 

Moving forward here, we’ll begin digging into how anyone in a leadership role can begin developing a definiteness of purpose that can serve as their driving force through even the nastiest crap that can be thrown at them as they lead and we’ll look at how that initial definite purpose can (and will) evolve over time.

A Definite Purpose Grows

When I bid on, was offered, then accepted my first position off the shop floor in the manufacturing facility where I worked, it was mainly to move away from shift work and to have a shot at developing a different set of skills that may someday help me land a supervisory position. The move into behavior-based safety about a year later had a little bit to do with that same idea but was equally based in a realization that the process I had been involved with just wasn’t something that would stick around long term; the corporate mandated lean manufacturing initiative I was helping rollout hadn’t been received well by really anyone in the building and was shaping up to be yet another flavor of the month… I’d love to tell you about my altruistic motives for accepting the safety position - but I can’t! It was more about my own career survival initially. That said, it didn’t take long to realize that I really could play a role in helping reduce the likelihood of someone having a workplace injury. But it still wasn’t my definite purpose.

About two years into the behavior-based safety role, another facility within the company requested that I come to their site to train a few of their employees on what the team I was responsible for had been doing to achieve results. I was dumbfounded; why would anyone want a (barely) high school educated guy, just a few years removed from being a carpenter and press operator, to fly across the country to teach their employees anything? Never being one to say no to an opportunity, I hopped on what would become the first of many flights to support other sites throughout North America. I think this was the very beginning of me having a definite purpose. Let me be very clear here though, it still wasn’t all about safety. This was the first time I saw how sharing tools I had learned to use even a little bit effectively could help others get better in their own roles.

Just a couple years after that initial trip, I accepted responsibility for officially supporting the rest of the company’s sites in the US, Canada, and Mexico that had an active behavior-based safety process. This wasn’t an actual change of positions though, I still held full responsibility for the process in my home facility. Since that process was designed to be driven by hourly employees, and the organization had a firm stance against hourly employees who weren’t directly involved in producing product getting overtime, I was limited to forty hours per week - to travel, to train in any of those other facilities, and to still get done all my other work that was a full time role by itself. Fortunately for me, I had a great group of other hourly team members who were actively involved in the process with me locally and I had three solid managers who helped grease the skids for it all to work out.

As I worked with each of those team members to divvy up pieces of my local responsibility so all the positive things we had worked to do wouldn’t completely die off in any given week I was traveling, I quickly realized an amazing but very unintended consequence. This was indeed helping our process stay strong despite me being out of the plant nearly fifty percent of the time some months, but it was also providing each of the folks who jumped in to help an opportunity to develop their own skills and be recognized for that by the local management team.

Looking back, I believe this was my first taste of having a definite purpose to work toward. It also served as my first taste of what's nearly always required of anyone working to achieve a definite purpose. As Andrew Carnegie explained to Napoleon Hill why he most certainly could but would not be subsidizing the project he engaged Hill to complete, he shared “that the more successful men in all walks of life were, and had always been, men who followed the habit of rendering more service than that for which they were paid.” Carnegie went on to tell Hill “that subsidies of money, whether they be made to individuals or to groups of individuals, often do more injury than good.” The latter continues to prove itself true on a daily basis. The former point ties right back to each of the folks supporting me in our local behavior-based safety process, and me too for that matter.

A Definite Purpose Comes with a Price Tag

Earlier in this look at the idea of leading with a clear purpose, I challenged you to really consider why you do what you do and I’ve been intentional since about emphasizing that accepting leadership responsibility simply for the perks that are perceived to come with it ain’t gonna be enough to lead authentically very any substantial period of time. If you’ve been leading for a place of service for a while, you get it - but I’d guess this next piece will ring true for you as well!

Designing Love (and Purpose) Into the Experience

Since most leaders will have far more interaction with their teams than they’ll likely have with the majority of the clients they serve, it definitely deserves the detailed look we’ll be giving it later on. But designing love and purpose into how our organizations operate will most certainly spill over into what each individual we serve experiences. And if we’re intentional about it, we can design just as much love and purpose into what anyone we interact with experiences!

 While our definite purpose is sure to grow and change over time, if for no other reason than the world around changes and the things we see as possibilities grow, I’ve seen one specific thing remain constant as a prerequisite for working toward even a modest purpose: there’s always a price tag attached! For me, the initial price tag was giving up the opportunity to snag extra overtime hours to pad my paycheck any time funds got tight. When I moved from my press operator position into a role where I was rolling out a new initiative for a segment of our facility, it was a lateral move where pay grades were concerned - but even with nearly four years in the company, I was still only about half way up the ladder in my particular wage band. To compound that, as I mentioned before, the new role was (strictly) limited to just forty hours per week. And it didn’t take long for me to realize that the skills that helped me earn the position were most certainly not the same set of skills that I would need to be successful in that position moving forward, which is something I’ve seen all too many people experience as their careers progress so I pounded that drum pretty hard throughout What’s KILLING Your Profitability? (It ALL Boils Down to Leadership!)...

So here’s what that meant for me: I needed to dig into any resource I could get my hands on that would help me become more effective in that role, specifically in building stronger relationships with the people I needed support from and earning influence with the folks who would ultimately be executing the initiative I was training on. I won’t pretend that I was carrying the same weight as the supervisors and managers in the facility at that point, but I will share that the part time starting wage I saw posted in a Five Guys recently was well above what I was making, and I all the resources I was digging into with hopes of becoming better in my role were paid for out of my own pocket. At face value, accepting that position was a step backward in overall earnings!

I can’t say that I’ve ever experienced anything resembling overnight success but even those initial small steps to move my needle forward made a difference. A year or so into that role, I had an opportunity to move into the behavior-based safety role I mentioned earlier - which was yet another lateral move. About a decade in, I was widely recognized as one the best (if not the best) in that process with the entire company and offered a position with global responsibility. At that time, the offer came with the largest pay increase that could be made for an internal promotion and would have taken me to a whopping $50,000 per year. Although that was indeed 25% more than my base hourly pay at the time, it was less than half of what my industry peers would have started at in that same role and just over half of what was budgeted for the position. 

Make no mistake, I’m absolutely not looking for your sympathy in sharing that. Quite honestly, that occurred in 2010 and since that time, I can point to ways that I’ve been the benefactor of nearly every one of the “riches” that Napoleon Hill said would come from working to achieve a definite purpose and being willing to render more service than I was paid for. And it wasn’t just limited to me! Nearly every individual who helped me keep my head above water by picking up a piece of that behavior-based safety process at our local facility while I traveled around the continent - without any additional compensation at the time - has also had tremendous advancement opportunities since!

The first steps we take in chasing a definite purpose may seem to have a price tag that’s just too high, but even starting the process begins paving the road to things we may not see for years to come. None of it happens though without developing clarity around what that definite purpose is so that’s where we’ll pick up soon…