Saturday, April 21, 2007

Purpose: The Starting Point of Great Leadership

A recent article by Nikos Mourkogiannis speaks to the importance of purpose in sparking organizational leadership. It is an excellent read. Here is a summary from the article to whet your appetite. Purpose is critical to our success in economic development. Think about the applications of these ideas to your organization.

"For any organization, the starting point of greatness is not in meeting expectations--whether of shareholders, board members, or constituents--but fulfilling a Purpose that fits the identity of the organization. For example, is a foundation charged primarily with discovery: inventing new approaches to helping people? Or with excellence: promoting a high standard of service and execution? Or with altruism: making greater numbers of people happy? Or with heroism: proving that difficult challenges (such as natural disasters) can be mastered?

The answer will vary from organization to organization, but the central point is universal. Organizations that thrive over time do so by invoking and fulfilling a purpose: ideally one based on a moral tradition that has stood the test of time. In my book Purpose: The Starting Point of Great Companies, I apply this principle to commercial firms and corporations, but the value of a moral basis of purpose is just as relevant to social sector organizations and their leaders as it is to leaders in any other sphere. While it may be tempting to think of organizations as being made up of instructions, processes, and resources, it should never be forgotten that people are their fundamental components. And one of the distinguishing features of people is that they have strong ideas about what is right and wrong. If you can resonate, collectively, with those ideas, then you can tap into people's commitment and creativity to a far greater degree. Karl von Clausewitz, Prussian general and author of On War, was right to believe that in war the physical factors are "little more than the wooden hilt, while the moral factors are the precious metal, the real weapon, the finely-honed blade."

Many people who talk about organizational purpose are concerned either with accountability or responsibility--what the organization must do to fulfill its obligations. But if you are interested in promoting greater levels of success, then purpose must be considered as a form of choice: to what ends are the leaders, and the rest of the organization, willing to commit themselves? This way of looking at purpose may not be familiar to all readers, so I will spell it out--first in the context of commercial companies, and then for the social sector."

Source: Leader to Leader, No. 44 Spring 2007

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