The Simplicity of Developing a Clear Purpose

As we looked at how the power of having a clear purpose can help leaders navigate some of the toughest scenarios they’ll face, I suggested that they’ll also need to provide at least as much specificity for the team members they lead and shared how my son accepted a position for five dollars less per hour when he no longer felt connected to a purpose with that company he had worked with for around six years. Rather than pointing fingers any the management team who could have held onto one of the youngest and most productive leads in their facility, while saving a ton of profitability that’s killed when retention is poor and turnover is high, let’s go a completely different direction for now and consider why anyone would choose to risk their life on a daily basis for just over $50,000 per year…

While both vary a bit based on the source (Indeed, Ziprecruiter,, etc.), a few quick internet searches will show you that the average salaries for firefighters and police officers in Virginia are just north of $50k. I realize that can be a bit less or even substantially more depending on the locality but the pay ranges for every other type of career will have a matching ebb and flow in those same areas.

I have a close friend who has been in law enforcement since he got out of the military. In the fifteen or so years he’s been a police officer, he’s been in at least half a dozen situations where his life was in immediate danger. I have another close friend who has been a firefighter for more than 30 years, starting as a volunteer before he could even drive a car then working his way up the ranks as a professional, and recently beat a type of cancer that was directly related to his work - and that doesn’t even speak to all the times in those 30-plus years he ran into burning buildings. 

With my two friends fresh in your mind, and with perspective on the average wages for each role in Virginia, why would anyone consider intentionally putting themselves in harm’s way for a salary that’s not much more than they could earn in a full time job stocking shelves in a big box store? I’m convinced it all boils down to purpose! In times where seemingly anyone can gain a social media following if they’re willing to do something stupid on video and share it for the world to see, I still believe that many people just want something they can buy into!

In chapter two of The 17 Indisputable Laws of Teamwork, John Maxwell explains “The Law of the Big Picture” by emphasizing that “the goal is more important than the role.” While both of the friends I mentioned above are in roles today where they earn a bit more than the state average (and carry significantly more than average responsibility), they both started the process at the bottom of their respective career ladders because they believed in the purpose they’d be supporting; the goal for each of them was indeed more important than their role! But as noble as their purposes may have been, I’ll stress that providing a purpose to each team member we lead is far simpler than it may seem!

Simple Steps for Providing a Clear Purpose

If we’re going to earn the kind of buy-in that yields the 57 percent increase in discretionary effort and 20 percent improvement in individual performance detailed in the Harvard Business Review article I referenced multiple times throughout What’s Killing Your Profitability?, there’s no better way than providing our team members with a clear purpose they connect with. But before they’ll hold the goal in higher regard than their individual role, we need to make sure they have clarity on what the organization is working to achieve - not just the financials that generally get shared at the end of a quarter, but who you’re serving through the work that you do - and how what they do ties in. While I maintain that this is indeed simple, very little in leadership is truly easy…

While practicing The Law of the Big Picture will be important, we’d do well to pull a few more lessons from The 17 Indisputable Laws of Teamwork to earn the engagement we really need. In detailing “The Law of the Compass,” John Maxwell shared that “vision gives team members direction and confidence.” I’ve heard him take that even further by saying that a leader needs to communicate that vision with their team almost constantly, especially early on, to make sure it sticks. Just like we’re rarely able to tell our kids something once and have it sink in, our team members won’t likely get the direction or develop much confidence if we only mention our organization’s vision in passing or with little energy. I suppose I could even make a case for it being a weak vision if the leader isn’t talking about it enthusiastically ALL THE TIME, but hopefully I don’t need to…

If we’re willing to then build on that vision by putting “The Law of Identity” to work, our team as a whole should be well on their way to having clarity around the organizational purpose. John’s statement that “shared values define the team” is part of what will rally our folks around a clear purpose. But for that to have a true impact, those shared values must be more than something buried in a policy manual. We’ll go deeper into that soon. For now though, just know that putting those practices into motion provide a foundation that we can work from as we give each team member what they need to establish a personal connection with that clear purpose. Shared values and a strong organizational purpose are certainly important in business, but even you and I will put more into a task when it falls in line with our own purpose so let’s consider that as we close this high-level look at leading with a clear purpose.

Providing a Clear Purpose for Each Team Member

Leading with a clear purpose, whether that’s drawing from the power of having a clear purpose for why and how we lead the team members who are counting on us or through how we provide that same kind of clear purpose for each individual on the team, is often some of the most important work we’ll do for our organizations! As critical as both those things are though, we can’t stop there and expect every single person to automatically fall right in line. We need to be just as intentional about connecting the purpose of the organization with the things that matter most to them.

As John Maxwell explains “The Law of the Chain,” chapter five in The 17 Indisputable Laws of Teamwork, he shares that “the strength of the team is impacted by its weakest link.” As accurate as that is, even a potentially strong team member can become a weak link if they don’t have a personal connection to the organizational purpose and aren’t finding fulfillment in the work they’re doing. Remember what I shared before about looking for a high bridge with fast moving traffic underneath when it felt like all I did in my full time role was checking boxes to comply with gubermint regulations? Burnout is a very real thing and it can take hold of the best of us when we don’t have a clear purpose we can work toward.

As leaders, we’re certainly responsible for identifying our own purpose and for defining the overall purpose for the teams we lead. But to get the best results possible, and to truly serve each team member, we’d do well to connect that overall purpose to the things they draw fulfillment from as individuals. As I make that statement, I have no doubt that more than a few crusty old executives just swore at me - and not all of them did it under their breath! While I realize even the idea of helping each individual on our teams find fulfillment will wreak of touchy-feely-ness to some, it’s something we can do to earn authentic influence and be genuine in how we lead our teams.

Make no mistake though, I’m not about to suggest that this will be easy on any given day. Doing this effectively will require us to know and understand how each individual is wired, identifying the things that really tug at their heart strings… And to take a page from the GI Joe playbook, “Knowing is (only) half the battle!” Then we’ll need to be sure to communicate with them in a way that gives them all they need to grab hold of the company’s purpose while connecting their involvement to a purpose that means just as much to them! We’ll work through that in very specific detail later on. Right now, just know that the most effective way I’ve found for doing this is based on a simple approach for understanding and applying The Model of Human Behavior. As we move forward with this idea of Leading with a Clear Purpose, we’ll look very closely at what you and I can each do to identify our own purpose and keep it top of mind then we’ll take an equally focused look at the specific steps we can take to learn to recognize the purpose that matters most to every individual we lead and make sure it’s top of mind for them too! Stay tuned…