What and Why are essential questions of leadership. While the direction of a ship’s rudder may be true, without the wind, a sailboat is rendered an expensive floatie. Similarly, the lack of a compelling “Why” resigns even a sound company strategy to the dustheap of untested ideas.
In their landmark book, Built to Last, Collins and Porras found that long-lived businesses all shared a powerful core ideology. With it, savvy business leaders redefined the way they interacted with the marketplace. When focused just on making money, businesses would last for a generation or so and then fade into oblivion. But when their raison d’ê·tre transcended profit-taking, the hearts and minds of employees and stakeholders turned a venture into an adventure; business as usual into long-lived business.
Covey instructed us to “begin with the end in mind.” But how does one identify that elusive end; the one that captures imaginations and draws inexorably toward to the future? Over the years I have assisted many clients to bring sharp focus to what really matters through the effective application of the following set of questions:
- What are you good at?
- What are you passionate about?
- What will earn you money?
- What customer need do I take responsibility for?”
The first three are from Covey’s Hedgehog Principle, while the fourth is a gem I picked up from a Strategy 101 course I took in the 90’s. The latter forces one to seriously consider the customer and walk a mile in their shoes before setting a strategy. Through brainstorming and analysis, debating and deliberation, a team develops a purpose or mission statement. Although it sounds simple, there is a role here for effective facilitation.
You may recall my previous blog: https://jvpienew.wpenginepowered.com/why-do-feel-good-movies-make-you-feel-good/ where throngs of people rallied around the self-less idea of giving a young, sick child a great memory. The cause wasn’t even that great, but despite this, thousands of people decided to practice the Royal Law, for no apparently valid reason. People just seem to be “wired” to respond to a purpose. Now, the better the mission, the more powerful and long-term the purpose, the more likely it is that people will spend themselves toward its pursuit. What I find perplexing is that naturalism claims there is no reason for being and no ultimate purpose for life. We are therefore, told to infuse an otherwise meaningless existence with lots of small purposes. The ideology is forced into a conundrum because it arges that as a race, humankind is an accidental blip on the radar of time; purpose has no place. Interestingly enough, it was the great German nihilist philosopher Friedrich Neitzsche himself who wrote “He who has a why to live can bear almost any how.” Unlike Dawkins et al, Neitzsche was willing to entertain the natural outworking of his philosophy.
Science, Engineering and Mathematics reject the uncertainty of relativistic thought, so it is relegated to softer disciplines. Not to be outdone by art, music and thought, architecture has also felt the need to rebel. Ohio State University houses the Wexner Center for the Arts, America’s first post-modern building. A guest lecturer and limo driver held the following discussion: “What is a post-modern building?” asked the lecturer. The driver replied, “Well, the architect said that he designed this building with no design in mind. When the architect was asked, ‘Why?’ he said, ‘If life itself is capricious, why should our buildings have any design and any meaning?’ So he has pillars that have no purpose. He has stairways that go nowhere. He has a senseless building built and somebody has paid for it.” The lecturer said, “So his argument was that if life has no purpose and design, why should the building have any design?” The driver replied, “That is correct.”
The lecturer said “I guess it’s possible to build a meaningless structure and get away with it.” However, the final question was a clanger. “Did he do the same with the foundation?” All of a sudden there was silence.
We can be frivolous with the rooms and features within a building, but the foundations must be to code. Any messing around down there will simply not be allowed. Its purpose is crystal clear.
As recently as last year, I used to think that the West was becoming a post-modern culture. Although it’s possible to hold relative views on ethics and morality, when it comes to science and engineering, the outcomes are unliveable; absolute truth rules. When sick, do we go to the medicine cabinet and take any capsule, since, by design all medicines are useful? Of course, not. We diagnose our symptoms and then apply the correct treatment. In a similar vein, we wouldn’t fly in a plane built without standards. ‘Modern’ when reality demands and ‘post-modern’ when style is cramped; today’s man is both a chameleon and a hypocrite.
Having begun with Covey’s end in mind, our purpose becomes the next most important thing to be found whether for business or for life. Find it. Pursue it. Achieve that end.