This is a guest post by John Gronski, Greencastle Alumni @MGGronski
I recently listened to a thought provoking HBR IDEACAST podcast titled “Turning Purpose Into Performance”. It featured interviews with Gerry Anderson, the CEO of DTE Energy, and Robert Quinn and Anjan Thakor, professors at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business and the Olin Business School at Washington University. Mr. Anderson and the two professors all agree that leading with purpose is a key factor to sustaining high performing organizations and achieving successful outcomes.
Business executives and academics could learn a great deal about leading with purpose by studying the United States Army’s concept of mission command. The Army has published a series of manuals which explains Mission Command including ADRP 6-0. The Army has established six principles of mission command. Based on those principles I want to highlight three key elements of leading with purpose.
A Clear Purpose
The journey along the pathway to success begins with articulating a clear purpose. Any person, any team, any company, any group of workers are more likely to accomplish their objective or reach their goal if they understand why they are doing what they do and understand the overarching purpose. Simon Sinek, a renowned leadership expert and speaker, has said that all great and inspiring leaders are set apart because they could clearly communicate organizational purpose and beliefs to those they lead. In the military we provide something called mission orders to subordinate levels of command. Mission orders articulate task and purpose, and the most important of those two elements are purpose. If I only had the time to communicate one of those two elements I would pick purpose every time. A leader must provide direction and articulate a shared vision which is a simple, unique, ideal, image of the future that explains to those within the organization the reason for why they exist and do what they do. This will energize and inspire the team.
Empower Junior Leaders
Empowering junior leaders is an important element of leading with purpose. Organizations succeed when leaders at all levels are provided the latitude to decide how to accomplish tasks and achieve the purpose. Promoting initiative is key, although embracing this philosophy does come with some risk. However, I believe initiative is so important to achieving mission success that encouraging and expecting high levels of initiative is worth the risk of honest mistakes occurring from time to time. Empowering others to make decisions and figure out the best way to do things (the how) does not mean a leader provides a task and purpose and then simply steps out of the way. Leaders must continue to supervise and be available to provide guidance and coaching through the lifecycle of a project. When subordinates do make honest mistakes it is important that leaders back them up and ensure everyone learns and mistakes are not repeated.
Another element of leading with purpose is growing a culture of trust. Trust cannot be built in an instant but must be grown over time. A key principle of nurturing an environment of mutual trust is treating people with dignity and respect. According to DTE Energy CEO, Gerry Anderson, one of the cornerstones of continuous improvement in an excellent organization is respect for people. Along with treating people with dignity and respect, other ways to grow trust include; trusting others before you expect them to trust you, providing a shared vision in order to instill confidence that the organization has a path to follow, displaying integrity and following through on promises, and demonstrating that you truly care for the people within your organization.
Leading with purpose creates a healthy environment in which all teammates take ownership for reaching the objective, even in times of fog and friction. An organization which encourages and expects initiative, respect, and trust will achieve positive outcomes and retain high performers – this is a lofty purpose in itself.