Verbalizing the Purpose They’re Driven By

Please don’t mistake me referring to something as being simple for thinking that I’m saying it will be easy. Even when we’ve invested the time to listen to what our team members are telling us and we’ve paid close attention to what their behaviors are showing us, we’ll still need to be incredibly intentional about how we provide them with a clear picture of how their work builds to a definite purpose - one they can measure as part of their own journey as well as the organizational purpose we’re working with them to achieve together. If this were truly easy, anyone with the slightest bit of authority that comes with a title or position would already be doing it. But with a practical framework for doing this, it can indeed be simple. The reason I call attention to the difference is that it will require focused effort, effort that’s far too often brushed aside as being too complicated or as taking too much time. My argument for taking this approach though will always be that, while time and effort will be necessary, it’s still significantly easier than what we’ll end up fighting through long term to achieve even mediocre results if we don’t do it! And that falls right in line with any other aspect of leading effectively - as I worked to detail throughout What’s KILLING Your Profitability?...

By asking the right questions and listening closely to the responses over time, coupled with studying the daily behaviors of our team members, we should be able to develop a clear picture of what makes them tick. Learning why they’ve chosen their current role, some of the more important things in their personal lives, and what they would like to be doing in the years to come - as they’ve shared through conversations and backed with their action - we should be well on our way to really understanding what gets them out of bed each morning as well as the things that light their fire. 

Assuming we’ve been thorough in putting our own definite purpose to words, we should have a baseline that supports us in doing the same thing for them. By combining what they’ve provided for us, through their words and deeds, with what we’ve come to understand about them as individuals, we should have some clarity around the definite purpose in their life - at least as it stands at that given point in time. Our work, as leaders, then becomes connecting the definite purpose that’s driving them to the overall purpose we’re working to meet as an organization. If we can define how their daily tasks not only meet and exceed the expectations of their role but also tie back to those things they hold most dear, we have a strong chance of helping each of our team members achieve a level of fulfillment they likely won’t get from many other organizations - ever!

When we can tailor our communication in a way that connects what they’ve told us and shown us as being their priorities to a clearly defined purpose in their life, then tie that back to our organizational purpose, completing tasks is less about going through the motions and more about working toward something of value to everyone involved. The challenge lies in delivering this kind of message in a way that’s received as well by every individual we’re responsible for leading so let’s consider some simple tools for doing that…

Following a Pattern

As we work to verbalize a purpose each of our team members find fulfillment in and connect with, something they can rally around as a genuine purpose in their life, it won’t be as simple as throwing the proverbial mud against the wall and hoping something sticks. This will require us to be very specific in how we communicate our message for each and every individual. Just like you and I aren’t likely motivated by the exact same things, our team members won’t be either - and the way each of them receives our message can vary just as much.

Nearly everyone I’ve ever met has been familiar with some form of The Golden Rule, “do unto others as you’d have them do unto you.” As powerful as this could be if leaders across society would actually take it to heart, we’ll need to build on that idea just a bit if we’re going to help our teams connect with and know how to measure purpose in what they do. Not only do each of us have our own unique lens for receiving communication, the things that motivate us are just as different. But recognizing a simple pattern for understanding this can serve as a foundation for removing the guesswork.

 In the early 1900s, William Marston did a tremendous amount of research to identify patterns for why people acted in certain ways. After thousands of hours studying people in heavily populated areas, the work that served as the basis for his book detailing The Emotions of Normal People, he was able to nail down some very basic ways for recognizing those patterns in nearly anyone. He realized that what he saw had no ties to gender, race, age, or nationality. And while each individual had their own unique “wiring” within those patterns, his work provided a strong starting point for understanding how we each approach the things we do. In addition to the book, that same work led to what we know today as the DISC Model of Human Behavior, the Wonder Woman comic book character, and the polygraph.

Cindy and I weave tools based on the DISC Model of Human Behavior into nearly everything do with organizations across the United States to help leaders at all levels build stronger relationships and communicate more effectively with their teams. In most cases, we have each leader we work with complete a basic (but extremely accurate) communication style assessment prior to our time with them. The scientifically validated results give us a detailed understanding of how they’re individually wired to communicate and behave when things are going well as well as when stuff hits the fan. We’re also able to show them how they can use several other tools in comparing their own results with their entire team or any other individual who has completed an assessment. The reality though is that each of them, and each of us, will need to be effective in dealing with people every single day who have not done one of those assessments so we work even harder to provide everyone in each group we train with a simple approach for applying Marston’s work in any scenario they find themselves in.

I realize that many people have completed some form of DISC assessment. Heck, Cindy and I have provided assessments and the training I just referenced for no less than a thousand leaders through several dozen organizations over the last few years. My intent here though is to give you perspective of just how much that same information can impact the way we help our team members latch onto a definite purpose in their own lives as well as the major purpose our organization is working to achieve. Whether you’ve worked through this type of material with us directly or not, there are two things you’ll need to consider to be able to provide a message of purpose that really connects with each individual you lead.

Determining the Proper Pace

Verbalizing a specific purpose that each of our team members identify and connect with can play a critical role in earning that 57% increase in discretionary effort that I referred to throughout What’s KILLING Your Profitability? (It ALL Boils Down to Leadership!) and several times as we’ve looked at the importance of Leading with a Clear Purpose. The time we’ve invested in listening to what our team members have shared with us and studying the action they back those words with should give us just about all what need to cast a vision of how their daily tasks tie directly to the things that motivate them - and that process becomes relatively simple when we follow a proven pattern! Thankfully, following that pattern boils down to answering two basic questions.

The first question could almost be considered as easy, as much as I hate to imply it. While little effort (beyond the listening and watching we’ve already discussed) is required, far too few in leadership roles ever do it. One of the things Marston discovered through his study was that each person operates on something of their own pace. This motor of activity looks at how they take on a task; some folks are very outgoing, jumping into their tasks full-speed-ahead where others are more reserved, taking a slower or more methodical approach. The beauty of this, with regards to how recognizing it helps us communicate with them, is that we’ll rarely have trouble hearing it in their words or seeing it through their behavior. And while the overall population is slightly skewed to the reserved side of the equation - with 60% or so there and only about 40% being more outgoing - this isn’t something that’s absolute. By paying even a reasonable amount of attention to our team members, we should be able to quickly identify where they are in relation to us.

As we work to share a vision of a clear purpose that provides them with fulfillment in what they do, we can adjust the pace of our communication (up if they’re more outgoing or down a bit if they’re more reserved) so it’s something they truly receive. The other great part about this first half of the pattern is that we’ll have some room for error. While the more outgoing folks tend to get bored if we’re not delivering fast enough and the reserved folks can become somewhat overwhelmed if we give them too much too soon, it’s rare that either will actually alienate someone. The same can’t be said for the other piece of the pattern…

Identifying Their Approach

Once we’ve been intentional about adjusting the pace we use to help each of our team members latch onto a purpose that drives them and yields engagement, we can shift our attention to the second piece of the pattern that Marston identified; is our team member more focused on the task at hand or the people involved in completing that task? Recognizing whether someone operates at a faster or slower pace than we do isn’t rocket science. To that end, we may not even need to listen to what they’re actually telling us. How they speak and move will likely be enough. Identifying their approach will be a bit more involved!

This is where active listening, and the information we can piece together over time through doing so, becomes critical. The team member who loves processes and procedures won’t be motivated by the same things as one who enjoys making sure everyone involved is having a good time. Someone driven by form, fit, and function will rally around a very different message than their peer who prioritizes relationships over the immediate task. How we, as leaders, help each individual connect with a definite purpose can be exponentially more effective when we adapt our approach to what they’re more focused on.

Unlike the first part of the pattern, taking the wrong approach in how we work to define purpose with someone can definitely ruffle some feathers. While the more task-oriented folks typically won’t mind if we jump right into the project at hand, doing that can send a message we don’t intend to our more people-oriented team members. In fact, it might actually give the impression that we value the work being done more than we care about them as individuals - and that’s definitely not a message we want to send to this group since nearly two-thirds of the general population will tend to focus more on who’s involved than what’s being done! The best part about this though is that there’s a cheat code, just like knowing where the hidden magic mushrooms were in Super Mario Brothers! When we’re not completely sure if someone is more focused on the task at hand or the people involved, we should always start with a more personal approach. Since we go into that in quite a bit of detail in our work with groups covering The Model of Human Behavior, I won't hash that all out here - but I’d be happy to chat with you more about it if you like…

Make no mistake, there is no right or wrong. We’re all wired a bit differently and each team member can be equally impactful in achieving the organization’s overall purpose. But helping them identify the purpose in their own lives that drives them, then connecting that to what we’re working toward as a team, calls for some very tailored communication; tailoring we’ll only be able to do when we’ve invested enough to really know who we’re working with. When we deliver a message that they truly want to receive, rather than the one that we’d want delivered to us, the chances of providing them with a way to measure the impact they’re having increases substantially. And as we speak their language, we’ll be able to provide them with a clear picture showing exactly how what they’re doing matters - and we’ll work through that in more detail soon!