The Motivating Power of Purpose

The hot new topic in the world of business today is this:

Executives and businesses around the world are embracing the idea that having a definable purpose for their enterprise is critical to success. That purpose needs to go beyond increasing shareholder value.

A recent survey found that executives who treated purpose as a core driver reported a greater ability to drive successful innovation. The challenge of course is identifying what the organization’s purpose is, and instilling it in a way that resonates with all employees.

The business world can learn from the early Antarctic explorers like Scott, Shackleton, Amundsen and Mawson about purpose-driven enterprises.  Their expeditions took place in the early 1900’s. They were purpose driven with a specific focus on science, discovery, mapping coastlines and new lands, and planting a flag at the South Pole for national pride.

As explained in the book, “When Your Life Depends on It: Extreme Decision Making Lessons from the Antarctic” these early expeditions endured incredible hardships to achieve their purpose — man-hauling heavily laden sledges hundreds of miles across the ice, struggling with limited rations, temperatures as low as -77 degrees F (-60 degrees C), all while trying to survive bouts of snow blindness, scurvy and frostbite.  There were many instances where situations were so dicey that life-and-death decisions had to be made, yet despite all the hardships and challenges, for the most part they not only survived but also achieved significant success.

Each expedition’s purpose was well-defined and well-articulated. Leaders led from the front. Team work among the expedition members was essential and encouraged.  Small and large teams performed incredibly well under the most extreme conditions because not only did even small teams have leaders, all teams had a second-in-command (whether stated or just understood by the team members).

Using the same concepts, executives and managers of modern businesses can improve productivity and commitment by studying the early Antarctic explorers and learning how they infused purpose into every team member. The book deals with key themes like goal setting, leadership, team work, decision making, and succeeding against the odds. The last chapter is titled, not surprisingly, “What is your Higher Purpose”.

With a clear purpose, the men on these expeditions 100 years ago quite literally followed leaders like Shackleton and Amundsen to the ends of the earth.  A clear, definable purpose that resonates with all employees will help modern organizations achieve great success today.

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