Elevating Leadership Series: Leadership & Purpose

Kenny, I don’t know how much I’m buying this motivation thing. I mean sometimes I have no motivation to go to work when I wake up, but I still go.

Great point! I suppose I should ask you WHY you go? Is it because you have a goal? A family? Something else entirely? Whatever it is – and it has many names – it is purpose that keeps you going when your motivation is low.

In my previous entry, I discussed motivation and how crucial it is to the organization as a motive force, likening it to fuel. As true as it is, in discussing motivation solely, we neglect a critical component in assuring superior performance of our organization – purpose. The reality is motivation, while important, is fleeting. Purpose, however, can be everlasting. Just think about that for a moment. How many things do you know that can be everlasting?

Let’s go back to our analogy of the car: We’re in the same situation, we were cruising down the highway when suddenly our vehicle loses power, and we have to pull over. We’re out of fuel – motivation – and now we can’t go anywhere, right?


If you still need to get to your destination, you can leave the current vehicle behind and find another vehicle, even if that vehicle is the two feet you were born with. If your purpose is strong enough, it makes no difference how low your fuel is, you’ll still get to your destination.

Invoking Simon Sinek, organizational goals are made up of what, how, and why. What is the actual task. How is the plan for execution. Why is the reason the task and the plan are necessary. Assessing the what and the how are easy. Got a goal? Make a task-list and plan the execution. The why is much harder (Sinek, 2010). Remember when you were a kid and your parents told you to take the trash out? You had no trouble with the what and the how: remove the trash from the premises by pulling the bag from the trash can and carry it outside. How many of us, though, asked our parents: Why do I have to take the trash out? You see, we all didn’t quite get the why; we didn’t see the big picture. We didn’t understand that our parents were teaching us responsibility. That why was difficult because it was obscured by the what and the how. So, we, therefore, didn’t understand the purpose. The destination is your what and your vehicle and the fuel are your how. Purpose is your why.

Purpose is the reason why I suggested in the previous entry not to reach for your subordinates’ wallets, but rather their hearts. Money, and other material goals like it, will never be faithful to anyone so we must be careful when mooring purpose to material rewards. Purpose can be generated by love for something (a task, a goal, a person, values, etc.), by a need for something, and/or just being flat-out great at something. I recommend aiming for those.

Side note (unrelated to purpose but no less important): I had a conversation with a colleague, Dan Luna, about followership several weeks back. Dan is a leadership scholar and professional with a heck of a resume who is completing an advanced degree at Georgetown University. First off, let me say that his take on leadership is both radical and ground-breaking – you can pick up his book on leadership when he finally writes it. In any case, he made a matter-of-fact point that changed my perspective on followership. He said, “The problem is: we call followership followership. Who wants to be a follower? No one. We should change the name – call it team member. Think about it. Ask people if they want to be better followers, and no one will raise their hand. Ask people if they want to learn to be better team members, and they’ll jump all over it. We have to change the name – rebrand it” (D. Luna, personal communication, n.d.).

That’s exactly what we need to do – rebrand it. Dan’s insight gave me new purpose in viewing leadership.


S. Sinek. (2010, May 4). How great leaders inspire action. [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qp0HIF3SfI4.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Close Menu
%d bloggers like this: