“The two most important days in life are the day you were born and the day you discover the reason why.” – Mark Twain
History has repeatedly shown us that people long for something larger than themselves. I know that I do. I would bet that you do, also.
I am not a natural follower. But, when I do follow, it’s because there is a leader that’s given me a sense of a higher purpose. It can be pretty intoxicating, actually. Would you agree?
“Where there is no vision, the people perish.” – Proverbs 29:18
Note the specific use of the word “perish”. The dictionary defines “perish” as:
- Suffer death, typically in a violent, sudden, or untimely way.
- Suffer complete ruin or destruction.
Somehow, that word intentionally means much more than “get bored” or “flounder”. A lack of purpose and a lack of vision can make life completely meaningless, and that can lead to complete ruin and even death. This is pretty heavy stuff! Who wouldn’t follow someone that gave them purpose (or saved them from the “suffering”)?
There are also a suitable number of studies that show that people tend to work harder and longer on projects when they understand the overall vision and/or significance of what they are doing. When the work results in a higher purpose, motivation naturally increases. The famous book, “The Great Game of Business” by Jack Stack is largely based on the premise that people perform better when there is transparency. That is, the results of what they do are readily disclosed and easy-to-understand; financial reports should be shared and made public to people inside a company.
You might know the story of the brick mason observed chipping at a large piece of granite, working as part of a large construction crew in Europe. When a passerby asked what he was doing, the mason replied, “I’m building a cathedral!” That man had vision.
The great challenge for leaders is in clearly communicating this vision, enabling others to see work as bigger than themselves. It starts at square one, with the leader – they cannot giveaway something they do not possess, so they need to have the greater vision within themselves, first and foremost. The best leaders are those who lead people to believe in themselves.
In the business world, I believe that so many leaders spend their time focused on profits, that the sight of a greater vision is quickly lost. The question that should be asked is: How can our business make a positive, meaningful difference in the lives of people that we touch? I think everyone needs to know where they are heading and why. Once they have that knowledge and are confident in it, they can leverage their talents to achieve unusually positive results.
One important note: a leader must trust his people in order to give them the authority to achieve these results. If you don’t trust the people you are leading, then you must fix that and fix it soon – like, today!
A simple example of a great leader displaying this skill was Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation. Feeling that the Union Army was losing some sense of purpose, he skillfully used this higher purpose to inspire and motivate the men in the army. Manipulative? Maybe, but that doesn’t make it wrong. It gave many men the inspiration that their fighting was for a higher purpose (and indeed it was), and that they were part of something much larger than themselves. And, don’t we have to feel that way to sacrifice our own lives? I am sure Jesus did.
Jesus asked the fisherman, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” He said to a woman standing at a well, “Follow me, and you will never be thirsty again.” Now, this certainly communicates a higher sense of purpose!
Jesus clearly and consistently communicated to his followers the significance of what they were doing. He promised them an everlasting life and explained to them that their higher calling was to the Kingdom of God. They were changing people’s lives for the good and were furthering God’s work on Earth. They could also see that their reward would be an everlasting life, where they were effectively cheating death. Clearly, they were working for something beyond themselves. We should take careful notes by how Jesus led his followers.