Finding Your Significant Purpose

Maybe it’s happened to you: You have a vision of what you want to accomplish. You begin to tackle the job. Suddenly, hours have flown by and you’re astonished by what you’ve achieved.

When work is connected to what we deeply desire, we can tap into energy and creativity we don’t even know we have. But to reach that seemingly effortless productivity, it’s not enough to simply have a vision of what we want to accomplish; our work also must have a purpose that is significant to us.

Jesse Stoner and I have written extensively on the creation of an effective vision, which is comprised of three elements: a significant purpose, a picture of the future, and clear values. Today I’m going to focus on that first element, a significant purpose.

Zeroing In on Your Significant Purpose

An organization can begin to find its significant purpose by answering the question, “What business are we in?” If your first thought was, “We’re in business to make money,” you’re missing the point. As author and speaker Simon Sinek says, “Profit isn’t a purpose.”

A significant purpose is bigger than what your company does. Rather than simply explaining what you do or what products you provide, your significant purpose must answer this question:

“Why?”

Your significant purpose must clarify—from your customer’s point of view—what business you’re really in.

For example, a mattress company with a significant purpose doesn’t simply sell mattresses and make profits; it’s in the business of providing people with a good night’s rest. An insurance company with a significant purpose doesn’t simply sell policies; it’s in the business of giving customers peace of mind.

A couple of real-world examples include Tesla, whose significant purpose isn’t simply to sell cars; it’s “to accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable energy.” Technology Education and Design—otherwise known as TED of TED Talks fame—has a simple yet powerful significant purpose: “Spread Ideas.”

The CEO of outdoor apparel company Patagonia, Rose Marcario, beautifully articulates the concept of a significant purpose. “If you want to retain great people and have a great company, then you have to inspire the people to a greater, bigger purpose than themselves, and for us it’s saving the planet,” she says.

Patagonia’s significant purpose—saving the planet—seems to be working well. Since Marcario took the helm, the company has quadrupled its revenue and profit while setting the standard for sustainable clothing production. The company’s significant purpose overrides the traditional economic model of growth at any cost; Patagonia encourages customers to get their gear repaired rather than buy new things. The company’s purpose also guides decision making: Last year, Patagonia announced it would donate $10 million from the recent tax cuts to grassroots environmental organizations.

A Significant Purpose Must Inspire

The fact that Patagonia is succeeding financially points to a key element of a successful significant purpose: it must inspire people’s excitement and commitment. The key word here is “inspire.” If people are not fired up by your significant purpose, the words you use to describe it—no matter how lofty—won’t matter.

Too many companies make the mistake of having a purpose that merely describes their products and services or promotes a meaningless assortment of cringe-worthy platitudes. If people can’t make a heartfelt connection to the meaning behind the words, your significant purpose will be worthless. But if you work together to find an inspiring purpose, those words will fuel everything your company does.

Don’t be afraid to ask for guidance in developing a significant purpose. Back in 2004, our company helped Petco Park—the newly-built home of the San Diego Padres—to find their “why.” Rather than merely providing customer service to baseball fans, passionate employees rallied around their new significant purpose: “to create Major League memories.”

Did it make a difference? It sure did. People connected to the vision and found all kinds of creative ways to wow their customers. That summer Petco Park got 7,500 unsolicited notes and letters from fans telling stories about how they’d been blown away by the service they’d received.

Now, I call that a grand slam.

Changing Your Focus Will Change Your Energy

Last week Margie and I spent a few days down in the Bahamas. During a conversation with the general manager of the hotel, we learned their buildings had sustained quite a lot of damage as a result of Hurricane Irma in 2017. His story of how the staff and management worked together to get things back to normal and how they helped each other get through that tough time was inspiring.

Right now they are in another tough situation—they have learned the hotel may be sold but they know nothing about the buyers or whether their jobs will still be there. Once more they’re all facing the unknown together. Margie suggested to the manager that I could hold a session for them all the next day and the manager enthusiastically agreed.

When I was getting myself ready to speak to the hotel staff, I thought about how it might be uplifting for them to have an outsider—someone who isn’t emotionally involved—come in and give them a little boost with some humor and encouragement. So, I started off with an exercise I learned from Tony Robbins that our trainers sometimes use as an ice breaker.

I had everyone in the room stand up. I said, “I want you to walk around and greet as many people as possible as if you were looking for somebody much more important to talk to.” I gave them all a minute or two. The sound in the room was a low rumble of mostly quiet voices. Then I got their attention and said, “Now I want you to go around and greet as many people as possible as if they were a long-term friend that you were excited to see.” The energy level in the room suddenly shot up and the sound was deafening! The mood had instantly shifted from somber to exuberant.

The point is this: when the thing we are focusing on changes, our energy changes. We can sit around and worry about a bad situation that might (or might not) get worse—or we can focus on what we can accomplish when we work together toward the same goal. I pointed out to this group that they had already proven they could accomplish anything, and that they can do it again. They know their strengths and they can encourage each other, empower each other, and lead each other through tough times. My message lifted their spirits.

By changing your focus from negative to positive, you can do the same. When have you changed your focus and allowed your energy to help you through a tough time? I’d love to read your response in the comments below.

Have a great week!

Creating Leadership Ripples

For good or bad, our behavior as leaders ripples throughout an organization.

Examples of bad leadership behavior negatively affecting organizations are all too easy to cite.  In the early 2000s, the criminal behavior of Enron executives caused thousands of employees to lose their jobs and led to the dissolution of Arthur Andersen, one of the country’s largest accounting firms. During the Iraq War, toxic leadership in the United States Army led to skyrocketing suicide rates among soldiers.

The fallout from poor leadership can last for years, even decades. Even if they don’t lead to bankruptcies and suicides, poor managerial behaviors reduce engagement, interfere with alignment, lower productivity, and drain human resources.  Research conducted by The Ken Blanchard Companies, together with Training Magazine, found that bad managers cost organizations money in at least seven ways.

The good news is that the ripple effects of positive leadership can also last for years. Consider this story from Dick Ruhe, one of my favorite business consultants:

One time, I had a half-day supervisor training in the spice fields of Gilroy, California. You’ve probably consumed the vegetables and fruit these folks harvest. You’d certainly recognize the company’s logo in your neighborhood supermarket.

The front-line people who worked the crop were happy to have a job. The training venue was on a large garlic farm. The meeting itself was in a relatively small building. The eighteen attendees sat on simple benches, and they stayed involved.

In the course of the day we discussed the qualities of good leaders. During the training, one name came up time and time again: Manny. The conversation basically became stories about Manny. He had quite a reputation. This guy seemed superhuman. But at some point, he had moved away from the company.

The conversation drifted to what the coworkers referred to as “flowers from Manny.” Somebody in the class asked if others still had their flowers. Many people said they did. Some of them even opened their lockers to show them to me.

The “flowers” were actually pink sticky notes on which Manny had simply drawn a smile as a reward for doing a good job. People in the group got emotional when they talked about Manny. I had trouble myself. I felt as though I knew him, even though we had never met.

Manny’s story underscores the importance of positive feedback in helping people reach their full potential. Catching people doing things right doesn’t have to take a lot of time, but the ripple effect of those praisings goes on and on.

While small gestures—like smiley faces on sticky notes—can have lasting positive impacts on organizations, bigger efforts can create legacies. Consider the work of Patrick McGovern, self-titled “Chief Encouragement Officer” of International Data Group and the founder of Computerworld magazine. A positive thinker who ended every meeting with his signature line “the best is yet to come,” McGovern grew his Boston-based technology media firm into a global powerhouse.

The day-to-day choices a leader makes become actions—and those actions create reactions. Think carefully about the ripples you’re sending throughout your organization and make sure their impact is positive.

Golfers: Are You Too Attached to Outcome?

I’ve often said that golf is an acronym for Game of Life First. I certainly proved that when I recently tried to qualify for the Golden Seniors team at my local country club.

In golf, as in life, you get good breaks you deserve and you get good breaks you don’t deserve. You get bad breaks you deserve and you get bad breaks you don’t deserve. Sometimes you’re playing better than you should and you have to deal with success and sometimes you’re playing worse than you should and you have to deal with failure. All in four and a half hours! Given the aggravation, it’s hard to believe that people pay money to play that game!

Well, I experienced all of this during my tryout, and ended up playing a lot worse than I should. I have to admit I was pretty disappointed in myself. But lo and behold, I got an email congratulating me for making the Golden Seniors roster! And just to prove what a crazy game golf is, last weekend I played with my grandson Alec and shot my best round since we started playing together. How about that! Such is life—and golf.

If you like golf, go to the library and check out a book I wrote years ago with Wally Armstrong, one of the great golf teachers in our country, called The Mulligan. It has a few gems you might be able to use.

One of my favorite parts in our book was about NATO golf—Not Attached To Outcome. I adopted the NATO philosophy years ago. I can’t tell you how much more fun it is to play golf this way than to grind my teeth over the score. I’m not worried about whether I’m going to be able to hit that hole or make that putt—I just get up there and let it happen.

When you’re attached to outcome, you might be having a good game but then you hit the ball wrong and find yourself focusing on the wrong things—every move you make, every breeze, every bump in the grass. Your body tightens up and you just can’t play as well. You become fearful of your results because you believe who you are depends on how you score or play that day.

When I play NATO golf, it doesn’t mean I’m not interested in hitting good shots or scoring well. It’s great when that happens, but I know that I am not my score. I am not each shot. As a result, I’m much more relaxed and able to swing freely at the ball without fear. I can focus on the fun, the camaraderie, and the beauty of my surroundings.

Spring is coming! Don’t forget to set your clocks ahead this Sunday morning. And remember: Life is a very special occasion—and golf isn’t too bad, either.

Be an Agile Leader

In business today, there’s a growing trend toward agile leadership: a focus on fast decision making, short-term goals, and the empowerment of individuals. What began as a leadership approach confined to IT departments—business units that must respond quickly to rapidly changing technology—has become a way of life for leaders generally.

Today, it’s not just IT departments that have to be on their toes—everybody in an organization must adapt quickly to change. People are recognizing that yesterday’s hierarchical structures and top-down management styles simply don’t allow for the flexibility and innovation required to compete in today’s fast-paced business environments.

That’s why the term agile leadership has expanded to include general leadership skills like acting on a shared vision, creating empowered teams, leading change, and sharing decision-making.

 

Agile Leadership at the Manager Level

Just as top-down management no longer works at the organizational level, it no longer works one-on-one, either. Agile leaders practice side-by-side leadership, partnering with their direct reports to provide the direction and support they need for their level of development on any given task.

Agile leaders are servant leaders, because they recognize that there are two aspects of servant leadership: vision and implementation. Creating a shared vision is the leadership part of servant leadership; helping people implement that vision is the servant part of servant leadership.

For many years, The Ken Blanchard Companies has been teaching SLII®, a servant leadership model that is based on the belief that leadership style should be tailored to the situation. This kind of flexibility is a key principle of agile organizations.

To become agile, SLII® leaders, managers must master three skills: goal setting, diagnosis, and matching. Goal setting involves aligning on what needs to be done, and when. SLII® managers make sure people know what they are being asked to do and what good performance looks like. Diagnosis involves determining a direct report’s development level—their competence and commitment to accomplish the goal. Matching involves aligning leadership style to a direct report’s development level. The goal of the SLII® leader is to develop direct reports so they can perform at a high level on goals without supervision.

Agile leaders trained in SLII® provide direction and support in the proper amounts to help fill in what direct reports can’t provide for themselves. When someone is new to a task, this means providing specific direction; when someone gets discouraged, it means providing coaching. As the person gains competence in the task, the leader pulls back on the amount of direction they provide as they support the person’s continued development. And when the person demonstrates self-reliance on the goal or task, the leader moves to a delegating style, giving direct reports the autonomy characteristic of people in agile organizations.

An agile leader can comfortably use a variety of leadership styles. As a leader’s direct report moves from one development level to the next on any given task, the leader’s management style changes accordingly. When leaders can comfortably use a variety of leadership styles, they have mastered the flexibility required by agile organizations.

 

A Real World Example

Let’s see how an agile leader can use SLII® to develop the empowered individuals needed in agile organizations.

Suppose you hire a 22-year-old salesperson with little actual sales experience. She has a high commitment to becoming good at sales and is curious, hopeful, and excited. Someone at this level is an enthusiastic beginner. A directing leadership style is appropriate at this stage. You need to teach your new hire everything about the sales process—from making a sales call to closing the sale—and lay out a step-by-step plan for her self-development, teaching her what experienced salespeople do and letting her practice in low risk sales situations.

Now, suppose your new hire has had a few weeks of sales training. She understands the basics of selling but is finding it more difficult than she expected. She’s not quite as excited as she was before and looks discouraged at times. At this stage, your salesperson is a disillusioned learner. What’s needed now is a coaching leadership style, which is high on both direction and support. You continue to direct and closely monitor her sales efforts, and you also engage her in two-way conversations. You provide a lot of praise and support at this stage because you want to build her confidence, restore her commitment, and encourage her initiative.

In time the young woman learns the day-to-day responsibilities of her position and has acquired some good sales skills. She still has some self-doubt and questions whether she can sell well without your help. At this stage, she is a capable but cautious performer. This is where a supporting leadership style is called for. Since her selling skills are good, she doesn’t need direction. She needs you to listen to her concerns and suggestions, and be there to support her. Encourage and praise, but rarely direct her efforts. Help her reach her own sales solutions by asking questions and encouraging risk-taking.

Eventually, your former new salesperson becomes a key player on your team. Not only has she mastered her sales tasks and skills, she’s also working successfully with some of your most challenging clients. She anticipates problems, is ready with solutions, works successfully on her own, and inspires others. At this stage, she is a self-reliant achiever. At this level of development, a delegating leadership style is best. Turn over responsibility for day-to-day decision making and problem solving; empower her and allow her to act independently. Challenge her to continue to grow and cheer her on to even higher levels of success.

Using the servant leadership skills of SLII®, leaders develop employees who are more proactive, engaged, and ultimately, self-reliant—in short, ready to meet the needs of the agile organization.