“The secret of success is constancy of purpose.” — Benjamin Disraeli, 19th century British statesman, prime minister, and novelist
Why do I get out of bed in the morning? Why do I go to work? What do I want to be remembered for when I am gone? Why do I exist? What about our team or organization? Why does it exist? What’s its value-add? What’s its function? How do we want to be positioned in the market and minds of our customers? What business are we in?
These are all questions of purpose. They deal with the deeper motivations and assumptions underlying and intertwined with our vision, values, goals, and improvement intensity. Purpose is the third component of Context and Focus (the other two are vision and values). Purpose could easily be the first. But arguing whether the picture of our preferred future, principles, or purpose comes first is about as productive as arguing whether air, water, or food is most important to life. They’re all vital.
Purpose is also called mission, meaning, reason for being, calling, life theme, niche, strategic intent, value-add, business definition, and the like. As with vision and values, what labels we use don’t matter. As long as we have clear answers to the above questions, we can use whatever terms make sense. We just need to be sure that whatever labels we do use are clear to everybody and used consistently.
A Pervasive Purpose
“There is no higher religion than human service. To work for the common good is the greatest creed.” — Albert Schweitzer, early 20th century French theologian, philosopher, physician, and music scholar
There’s a recurring, consistent pattern in the mission or purpose of most effective leaders, teams, and organizations. That pervasive, underlying theme is, success comes through serving others. In the front of Zig Ziglar’s book, See You at the Top, he singles out and highlights this declaration, “You can get everything in life you want if you help enough other people get what they want.” That philosophy (which he weaves throughout the rest of his book and his presentations) left a very deep impression on me early in my career. It has profound and powerful implications for defining personal, team, and organizational purpose.
In his book, Principle-Centered Leadership, Stephen Covey presents a convincing case for a leaders’ universal mission statement. This, he writes, “is intended to serve leaders of organizations as an expression of their vision and sense of stewardship.” The leaders’ mission statement he proposes is “To improve the economic well-being and quality of life of all stake-holders.”
This universal statement is a starting point or general philosophy; it shouldn’t be adapted as is. We all need to develop our own. Part of the reason for “growing our own” mission or purpose is so we’ll have one that’s in our own words and relevant to us. But the biggest benefit comes from the process of thinking and verbal wrestling to get something on paper.
Developing a personal, team, and organization purpose that’s aimed at serving others adds a richer sense of meaning to any personal, team, or organization change or improvement efforts. It taps into the deep craving we all have to make a difference. We need to feel that the world was in some way a little bit better off for the brief time we passed through it.