When we look at how we harness the human element of our organizations, we know that providing purpose is crucial. How does that look in a work setting? Let me share an example through an anecdote by John Girard, who points to this at an individual level and its implication for leadership.
What do you do?
On a foggy autumn day nearly 800 years ago, a traveler happened upon a large group of workers adjacent to the River Avon. Despite being tardy for an important rendezvous, curiosity convinced the traveler that he should inquire about their work. With a slight detour, he moved toward the first of the three tradesmen and asked, My dear fellow, what is it that you are doing? The man continued his work and grumbled I am cutting stones. Realizing that the mason did not wish to engage in a conversation, the traveler moved toward the second of the three and repeated the question. To the travelers' delight, this man stopped his work, ever so briefly, and stated that he was a stone cutter. He then added I came to Salisbury from the north to work, and as soon as I earn ten quid, I will return home. The traveler thanked the second mason, wished him a safe journey home, and began to head to the third of the trio.
When he reached the third worker, he once again asked the original question. This time the worker paused, glanced at the traveler until they made eye contact, and then looked skyward, drawing the traveler eyes upward. The third mason replied, I am a mason, and I am building a cathedral. He continued, I have journeyed many miles to be part of the team that is constructing this magnificent cathedral. I have spent many months away from my family, and I miss them dearly. However, I know how important Salisbury Cathedral will be one day. I also know how many people will find sanctuary and solace here. I know this because the Bishop once told me his vision for this work. He described how people would come from all parts of England to worship here. He also told me that the cathedral would not be completed in our days but that the future promise of this building depends on our hard work. He paused and then said, So I am prepared to be away from my family because I know it is the right thing to do. I hope that one day my son will continue in my footsteps and perhaps even his son if need be.
The Power of Purpose
In this example, we immediately take note of the difference between the first worker who had no purpose for what they did beyond the immediate task, and we are drawn to the account of the third stonemason who demonstrated a grander vision that gave purpose to his work. This speaks to something that I believe resides in all of us. We desire purpose, not only in our personal lives and relationships but also in our work. This is crucial, particularly when it comes to performance. After all, which mason would you hire?
This last worker was gifted with an understanding of his purpose, but where did he get that meaning? The Bishop. Many of us will not readily see meaning in the work we do, it is something good leaders must provide. Some leaders will create the connection between our work and the greater good - for example, Starbucks does not "just" sell coffee they offer a social experience - a place for people to gather. Other companies tie the work to philanthropy by directing some of the profits to charity or providing time for staff to volunteer toward causes of their choosing.
Purpose and Worth
As leaders, we do this because we value our people. You communicate value when you take the time to create a purpose for the work being done.
Know Your Purpose
You will find that it helps to know your own purpose for what you do. For example, I do what I do because I believe that leadership is amazing. It is an experience that need not be terrifying or mundane. Leadership can be larger than us and can be enjoyed. The more we embrace it, the more those we lead will benefit.
Have you created purpose for your team? If not, why not? Performance Leadership - Think About It!