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There’s a habit really amazing leaders have: they always keep the company’s purpose front and center — and they make sure employees do as well.
When speaking about strategic initiatives and goals for things like profitability, efficiency, and growth, they never forget to TIE IT BACK. They relate everything back to the company’s vision, mission, and purpose. Consider a few scenarios where a leader is sharing annual goals:
Leader #1: “We want to increase our profitability this year because we donate 10% of our profits to programs that serve people experiencing homelessness, and we want to do more of that.”
Employees: “YES. We’re all over it.”
Leader #2: “We want to grow our revenue by 15% because that means we’re serving 15% more people and we’re able to make a bigger impact on our community.”
Employees: “YES. Let’s do this.”
Leader: #3 “We want to be 15% more efficient this year so we can WIN and beat our competitors!”
Employees: “Uh, ok, whatever.” (At least many of them, according to the latest studies on the importance of having purpose in their work.)
Sure, many high-performers have a competitive streak, but is that really enough to get employees inspired and keep them motivated when times get tough and they need to put in the extra effort? Not likely. Because in this case, employees know what it’s really about for that leader — profit for the shareholders (and probably that leader’s bonus).
Be The Keeper of the Cause
In his book The Infinite Game, Simon Sinek talks about the importance of companies having a “Just Cause,” which he describes as, “a specific vision of a future state that does not yet exist; a future state so appealing that people are willing to make sacrifices in order to help advance toward that vision.” And the way he describes the leader at the head of a company with a Just Cause? The “Keeper of the Cause” or “Chief Vision Officer.” If a company wants to keep playing the “game” of business as long as possible, the role must be filled by an “infinite-minded leader”:
While a finite-minded leader works to get something from their employees, customers and shareholders in order to meet arbitrary metrics, the infinite-minded leader works to ensure that their employees, customers and shareholders remain inspired to continue contributing with their effort, their wallets and their investments.
If you’re reading this, you’re probably a purpose-driven entrepreneur who can’t imagine focusing only on “winning” and “beating your competition” like the finite-minded leader above. But sometimes we get overwhelmed by everything on our plate or feel the very real stress that comes from leading a company and forget to be intentional in our messaging to our team. We share our annual company goals and initiatives without also sharing the why. Or we bring in a new leader with an impressive resume to help us run the company so we can step back — without ensuring they’re also an infinite-minded leader who is totally on board with our mission and purpose.
Making It a Habit
So how do we make sure that we stay grounded in our purpose and vision? Well, I’m a big believer in the power of habits — researchers have said habits determine around 40% of our behaviors each day, and as the Aristotle quote goes, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”
“Excellence” is keeping our mission, purpose, and vision front and center in our business, and according to the definition above, it’s built on habit. So here’s six “mini habits” you can incorporate in your company to ensure you are repeatedly connecting goals, strategy, and actions back to your purpose:
- Start every team meeting, big or small, with a reminder of the company’s purpose. Have it as a slide in your deck or first part of the agenda! One way to kick this up a notch is to start the meeting by having one person from your team tell a story that links back to your purpose.
- Build a question into whatever framework you use for strategic decision making — “How does this further our purpose?”
- Write your purpose at the top of every day’s to-do list/or planner. Really! Writing it down is a great way to keep your purpose top of mind.
- Use a visual clue that reminds you of your purpose–but change it frequently (at least monthly) so your brain doesn’t start tuning it out. It could be a picture, a sign, a sticky note, a framed “thank you” — whatever works for you.
- Before presenting strategy or goals to your team, run your outline past someone on your team whose job it is to keep you mission-focused.
- Add a quick journal question at the end of every workday — “how did my time today move us closer to our vision?”
The culture in which we currently operate can make it tough to stay focused on what matters and not get swept away by what other people define as “business success.” But if we truly want to harness the incredible potential of humankind to make the world a better place, we need leaders who are up to the challenge. And since you’re reading this blog, I’m going to assert that YOU are one of those leaders. You just need to build the habits to keep you connected to your greater vision, mission, and purpose. So let’s start tying it back. Every day.