I was coaching a senior executive last week and we were exploring the idea of Purpose together. It was easy for my client to define what the organisation existed for technically, but it was not until we explored the areas beyond profit, the moral and social dimensions of why he chose to engage in his role, that he became energised and animated.
This is far from a unique experience. As soon as a client explores what we call their ‘Noble Purpose’ and begins to articulate what the world could look like (Vision) if they were really living it, then limitless levels of energy becomes available to them – the energies of Passion and Inspiration.
For Leaders to positively impact their colleagues, it is crucial that this sense of Noble Purpose is shared. Everyday, spontaneous ‘Leadership Conversations’ become an opportunity to bring meaning to the lives of workers in any organisation. I’m not just talking here about objectives and measures, though of course they are an important element in their own right, but engaging with the deeper aspirations that we hold as human beings – to belong to something important and to make a difference.
David Kantor in his book ‘Reading the Room’ explains the importance of a shared or narrative purpose in the following way:
‘The job of a leader is to articulate and defend the story that keeps the organisation together and promotes its general success. Another job is to makes sure that the story stays close to the truth.’
According to Kantor a narrative purpose has 4 key components:
- A shareable big picture
- A purpose that’s clear and that reaches beyond financial success.
- A moral and Social Dimension… that requires moral leadership
- Operating Values – guiding Principles and Practises
Kantor’s ideas also resonated with some other material I was reviewing about the importance of storytelling as a means of bringing organisational purpose to life.
What’s key for me is that a Noble Purpose forms a basis for what we really pay attention to in our daily decisions and actions. For example, if our purpose it to improve the health and wellbeing of our customers, then we immediately have a benchmark, a standard, by which we can measure our own behaviour and the behaviour of the colleagues around us.
Improve the health & wellbeing of our customers
|Industry||Matching the standard||Falling Short|
|Food||Only buy raw materials with a validated and trusted supply chain||Buy the cheapest raw materials possible in open tender.|
|Pharma||Immediate announcement and recall of a faulty product||Continue to ship, whilst working on the problem|
|Automobile||Implement new features that extend safety parameters||Trim the design specs to meet minimum standards|
Standards are different from objectives. A standard is lived today, in the moment. Even the best objectives have the potential to be deferred as an aspiration for a future date. A standard has the power to drive our immediate actions, right now and can be readily seen by our colleagues, customers and other stakeholders.
As leaders me meet and communicate every day. If the stories we tell in these conversations are real examples of the Noble Purpose being lived, if we publicly recognise the behaviours and achievements of those who maintain the standard and immediately bring to account those that contravene them, then Noble Purpose will become a reality. If Noble Purpose is only a clever strap line developed in the Marketing department for corporate communications, it will remain at best an hallucination.
We have some fantastic clients who are bringing their Noble Purpose to life through their work. We’d love to hear how you are managing to do the same.