As the leader of your team, you must clearly understand and be able to pass on the purpose of your organization and your team’s role within that organization through your leadership role. If you don’t know the purpose of your efforts, you certainly won’t be able to inspire your team to success.
Communicating purpose will take more than requiring your team to memorize the company mission statement, however. It must become part of the culture of what everyone in your organization thinks about, says, and does each day. It will influence decisions made at the top and choices made by the “lowliest” employee.
Take, for example, Southwest Airlines. Founded in the 1970s, Southwest set out to make the airways affordable for everyone and “set the customer free.” Practically, that meant focusing on the priorities that supported their purpose—safety, airplanes, people, and airport locations—and not trying to match the standards of other airlines in other areas. They didn’t provide the same meals, offer the same first class amenities, or move customers through lines as quickly, and they were criticized for it. But founder Herb Kelleher said, “I’m in the business of democratizing the skies. I can’t do it if we have high costs. If something increases our costs, we’ll have to increase our fares, and we’ll violate the purpose of the airline: democratizing the skies.”1
The employees at Southwest Airlines knew their company’s purpose and stayed focused on goals that promoted that purpose. This is especially important for today’s younger employee who wants to understand the process before he can fully engage.
I experienced this myself a few years ago. Compassion International, a nonprofit organization that promotes physical, emotional, and spiritual health for impoverished children around the world, was interested in having me speak across the country on their behalf. I’d heard good things about them, so I accepted their invitation to visit Honduras and observe what they were doing there.
I wasn’t prepared for what I saw. At a garbage dump in Honduras, I encountered families of up to ten people living in one-room, twelve-by-twelve-foot shanties of loosely constructed tin and boards. They had no electricity or bathroom. A fire pit in the ground doubled as their stove and source of heat. The adults worked ten-hour days to earn their food for the day—two tomatoes. When a garbage truck pulled up to dump a new load of trash, hundreds of people emerged from the shanties to sort through the debris for anything useful.
I remember seeing a tiny one-year-old lying on a mattress in one of these shanties. My son Jaden was about the same age at the time. That little boy and his dad could just as easily be Jaden and me, I thought.
When I learned of Compassion International’s plans to help build a school in the area and provide food and clothes for the children, I was hooked. Compassion was making a difference here. I couldn’t wait to give my first speech and get people excited about what was happening. I understood the plan. Suddenly, I understood purpose.
Adapted excerpt from: “Inspired People Produce Results” – Jeremy Kingsley, McGraw-Hill (2013)