Our Purpose Is Our Best Guide

January 15, 2010

The next meditation on followership from Ira Chaleff’s exceptional book “The Courageous Follower” is: Our purpose is our best guide. Purpose is why we do what we do. I think it is the missing element in most organizations. As I have said before, purpose is the currency of leadershp because purpose lives in the hearts and minds of those that serve the purpose. That makes purpose a powerful driver of behavior.

I don’t see purpose and egocentrism as opposite ends of a single continuum. We all have degrees of both egocentrism and purpose guiding our organizational behavior. But we have to appreciate as followers that purposeful behavior is the foundation of right relationship where leaders and followers are interdependent with each other instead of dependent on each other.  As leaders, our egocentrism will lead us to force others into dependent relationships with us because it is the most effective way to manipulate them to achieve our self-centered goals.

Healthy leadership and follwership, like healthy relationship, is reciprocal. We have to assume responsibility for developing this perspective and competence in ourselves as followers, even if those we are in relationship with don’t invite us to behave as peers. We have to learn how to feed our purposeful self and starve our egocentric self.

We all have different missions at work that correspond to the responsibilities of our functional expertise. I teach management, someone else teaches music, others enroll students, sell textbooks, recruit students, handle community relations, etc. It is inevitable that at some point in time our missions will conflict, especially when resources are scare. That’s when we can use our shared purpose to guide us through conflict. Absent purpose, our turf wars can get ugly.

Most of us work for leaders that have never clearly articulated our shared purpose. Sure, they might have a mission statement on the wall, but that is NOT purpose. We are never relieved of the responsibility of understanding for ourselves why our organization does what it does, why it matters, and why what we do on a daily basis helps our organization accomplish its purpose.

Related Posts:

Leadership: The Value Of Share Purpose

The Fundamental Act Of Leadership

ACT Change Theory: Create An Emergent System

Hubris: The Other Side Of Level 5

About the Author:

Comments (4)

Trackback URL | Comments RSS Feed

  1. There’s been a lot of conversation not just on my site but on others this week about the need for the workplace to change.

    I’ve just realised that articulating and agreeing shared purpose as a dynamic, ongoing conversation, is a missing part of the equation.

    Thanks for the insight!

    Bret L. Simmons Reply:

    I agree, Christine. I don’t think purposeful organizations create purposeful actors, I think purposeful actors create purposeful organizations. Thanks for sharing! Bret

  2. Alex Kugel says:

    Excellent! “Feed our purposeful self and starve our egocentric self” sums it up.

    Bret L. Simmons Reply:

    Glad you liked that! Thanks, Alex. Bret