It seems as though everyone has an opinion on the Brexit vote – so here is one on the ‘higher purpose’ of the leaders on both sides of the argument. As I listened to the British Prime Minister David Cameron speak on the ‘stay’ argument and former London mayor Boris Johnson speak on the ‘exit’ side, I could not help but think about who was appealing to the ‘higher purpose’ of the argument. As an organizational leader—whether you’re leading a team, project, business unit, company or country—you have to understand your higher purpose. This purpose has to be something that transcends the routine of daily work and inspires all people to do their best.
General George Patton, of World War II fame, provides a great example. His higher purpose was to someday lead a great army to victory, and he did eventually. Until then, his purpose sustained him. It got him out of bed in the morning through long years of drudgery at posts in remote parts of the world.
Good business examples of a higher purpose are plentiful. For example, Amazon wants to be the world’s most customer-centric company. King Arthur Flour wants to spread the joy of baking to everyone. Zappos’s higher purpose is to deliver happiness around the world.
The CEO of a technical training company told me an interesting story of how he discovered the best way to communicate his company’s higher purpose. He was struggling to find the right balance of vision and reality because he didn’t feel the firm’s work would sound very inspiring. But the firm does training for hospital clients, so he used that as a starting point. He decided his company’s higher purpose is to help clients create a safer, more efficient place to deliver healthcare. Saving lives is certainly much more inspiring than writing training plans!
At its most basic, a higher purpose is a reason for being. But it should also include a vision of the future. You want people to get excited about it, so it should definitely be bold. (Who wants to be the world’s most compliant company or the one that best meets customer’s needs?) You don’t need to have a lot of data behind it; it just needs to be possible. Google’s higher purpose is a good example: Google wants to organize the world’s information. It’s bold and it’s possible. You should constantly communicate about your vision of the future.
Perhaps the jury is still out on which side appealed to the higher purpose of the argument. One thing is certain, in the long run, the higher purpose always wins out. It may take days, weeks, months or even years, but staying on point with your higher purpose will eventually see you through.