Why does Purpose have a purpose-also in Leadership

From time to time I find myself wondering when people, who do their own work with an 8 to 4 attitude avoiding all responsibility and extra work, tell about large home projects or volunteer work they do with a glint in their eye. There the amount of work, drops of sweat, and hours are not counted. Creativity is unleashed and performance is at its best – something which is not seen in their normal work.

As I was wondering about this, Peter Drucker’s words from a few decades back came to my mind. 

‘Only three things happen naturally in organizations: friction, confusion and underperformance. Everything else requires leadership.’  

Could this still be true?

Whose fault is it if some people in an organization systematically underperform in their duties and are not committed? As we think of this, each of us, managers and leaders, can ask from ourselves, what do we first focus on and where do we find fault when we notice that some of the staff is not performing as expected. If we pay any attention at all… The easiest, and unfortunately, also the general way of thinking, is to blame the person in question for laziness, lack of commitment, poor motivation (the list continues) instead of internalizing the meaning of Drucker’s words and focusing on our own leadership. The answer is most likely found by looking in the mirror.

What is Leadership all about? How can we contribute to top performance? Perhaps an old story partly explains part of the issue to us: Two men were transporting a load of bricks along the road. A person stopped them and asked, “What are you doing?” To this, the first one responded by saying: “Don’t you see, we are hauling bricks”. The other one’s answer was more intriguing. He pointed to the nearby church under construction and answered: “We are transporting bricks to build that church so that worship services and other events can be held there.”

Is it enough that we only give people clear personal goals, which are of utmost importance in themselves, to achieve the commitment of the man who responded second. (Unfortunately, it has been my experience that many do not even know how their success is measured.) Numerical goals, which in the previous story could mean 5000 bricks transported from stack A to B during one workday, do not in itself give work a very deep meaning or Purpose.

If goals measure only actions or economic outcome, we can be almost certain that we do not understand the Purpose of what we do. Nor should we wonder about the presence of uncommitted people around us. If you see them around, it may be worthwhile to look in the mirror a moment longer and ponder your own leadership behavior. 

Am I a leader based only on my position or am I really leading and do I know how to help create Purpose? 

Now as we continue to look in the mirror, we can think about the Purpose of my organization and what I do. If I am unable to answer this question and have not discussed it with my team, is it sensible to even try to implement strategic or any other goals? When we all share a common understanding and perception of the Purpose of our activity, its execution in itself inspires and motivates. This will give a new purpose to personal goals and commitment is almost automatic.

I want that church completed! Such Purpose in itself, which is greater than a person herself, presents a possibility for creating internal motivation and inspiration, which are indispensable in creating commitment.

So, what is the purpose of Purpose? For customers, it tells clearly what the organization in question really values, what problems it wants to help solve and perhaps even how it is done. For employees, it gives the opportunity to be proud of the impact that the organization makes affecting the lives of customers and society. That if anything inspires and motivates. Here is, however, a risk that some of the underachieving lazy people become people who by their own example inspire and motive others – even customers!

Does your work have Purpose?

Pekko Nieminen

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