A few weeks ago I was humbled as I stood at the Lincoln Memorial on the steps where Martin Luther King, Jr., stood in 1963 and delivered the “I Have a Dream” speech. There is an engraved marble step on the exact spot where he stood. The spot is not restricted from access and thousands of people stand on that step each week, so the words on the engraving are difficult to read.
When I finally realized where I was standing, I froze in my tracks. How is it possible for me to place my very own feet on the exact spot where one of the greatest figures in American history stood and delivered one of the most memorable speeches in human history? I was overwhelmed with emotion.
I paused and almost had a feeling of shame come over me. Should a simple person like me really stand there? As I gently moved my left foot over the engraved step, I shifted my body in what felt like a slow-motion scene. As I placed my very own feet on that step, I felt a thousand questions flood my mind. What was it like to be there on that day? What was it like to be living during that time? What was he like? How can I learn from him? How can I lead like him?
Fact: Regardless of your faith or beliefs, Martin Luther King, Jr., was a master at leadership. If we try (and it’s a challenge) to separate the magnitude of his message, the issues of that time, the work we still need to do, and the fact that he was taken from us too soon, we can learn even more valuable lessons. It is possible to learn from him about how to inspire others to action.
When Martin Luther King, Jr., stood on the very step of the Lincoln Memorial and looked upon the Washington Mall 50 years ago, he was actually speaking to me—even though I was not born yet. He spoke to me because he shared his “dream.” He inspired people then, and he still inspires people across the world today.
In the business world dreams are converted into corporate vision. A corporate vision then is translated into a purpose. And purpose is something that is vitally important to connect a company together at all levels and across all departments.
In addition, purpose has become one of the most important reasons people want to and continue to work for many organizations. Purpose will rip down the (perceived) divide across generations, cultures, genders, religions and so forth.
One of the best sayings I have heard to describe purpose is, “People want to work for companies that are great ‘for’ the world, not the greatest ‘in’ the world.” Many will also say, “People want to be part of something bigger than themselves.” Both of these statements contain the essence of what the power of purpose can deliver. It’s about connectedness and the potential of spectacular result when people work together helping each other to move forward.
Recently, I led a webinar on employee engagement and gave several examples of companies that use purpose to bring their organizations together. One such company, Bayer, states that its purpose is “To make people’s life safer, easier, and better.” When you think about that statement you can use it to make decisions, validate actions, arbitrate, and lead. It can be used today and 20 years from now. It’s timeless and never-ending. It can help you focus and navigate rough and turbulent economic times. It can help you to thrive. Bayer has been around for 150 years and a purpose like that can guide them for the next 150 years.
You can use these same types of methods at work and at home. These methods are deeply rooted and proven in social sciences, and there are thousands of resources to study about influence, intrinsic and extrinsic motivation, anthropology, psychology and sociology, and so on.
If your organization has not provided you with a purpose (tool) to use like Bayer has provided, do not let that stop you from creating one. Don’t be stymied by thinking it has to last for generations either. It can be simple.
For example if you are in retail it could be, “We create smiles.” A dentist could use the same one. If you sell bikes it could be, “We get you moving.” Your purpose should not be complex and require months to remember and minutes to forget. These are not mission statements; they simply explain why you do what you do. Just be aware that it has to relate to everyone not just shareholders, Wall Street, or the CEO.
So, what will you say is your purpose? What is the purpose of your team? What is the purpose for you as a leader? What is the purpose of your family?
From a growth perspective, the sooner you start seeing the sensational opportunities before you and describing the picture of your purpose, the sooner you will be able to experience the uplifting power of collaboration.
This is my dream for you.
Original published at Association for Talent Development (formerly ASTD) website
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