Leadership by Experience

People Need a Purpose, Not Just a Paycheck

images (1)“Shared Purpose” is shorthand for getting people connected to the mission of an organization. The most effective leaders are able to build a collective sense of shared purpose and connect each individual to the mission of the larger team. In fact, the teams who think and work together with a sense of shared purpose are the happiest, and the most successful. When leaders keep the welfare and engagement of their teams in the forefront of their decisions, they enable those teams to connect to the mission of the organization. That connection leads to a sense of mission and shared purpose–both keys to high performance.

When Leaders Serve, Teams Connect

In contrast to the Industrial Age, Information Age leaders have to pay attention to the needs of individuals. Those leaders who do, will be giving the individuals in their teams a sense of shared purpose. During the Industrial Revolution, management specialists de-emphasized the needs and variations of individuals in an effort to standardize the product. While standardization and mass-production enabled large scale availability of consumer goods, it often produced, ahem, sub-optimal results in employee morale and even safety. In fact, when we form a caricature of a soul crushing work environment, an industrial age factory or office comes to mind. Thankfully, we’ve learned a few things since the 1940s.

Today’s corporate leaders understand the need to develop their people, facilitate their engagement, and the need for individuals to contribute meaningfully. Good leaders care about their people and give their teams a shared purpose and mission. Companies who repeatedly score highly on “Best Companies to Work For” lists take these principles seriously. In my book, Leading Leaders: Inspiring, Empowering, and Motivating Teams, I talked about companies who do this successfully. The data is a little old, but their names will be familiar:

For example, according to CNN Money Magazine, the top three companies to work for in 2012 were Google, Boston Consulting Group (BCG), and SAS Institute. Employees at all three companies reported they felt valued by leadership, their work was meaningful, their pay was good, and that the workplace was a fun place to work. Google’s success as an organization is legendary: good pay, self-paced work, and plenty of free food. BCG has a focus on work–life balance, including requiring their employees to take time off, which demonstrates they value their employees’ well being as much as they value their productivity. SAS has a number of programs emphasizing the value of their employees’ well-being, including subsidized Montessori childcare, intramural sports leagues, and unlimited sick time. All three of these companies value their employees and prove that through their HR policies. What’s more, the leaders themselves model the behavior they require of their employees.

In addition to the work environment, 21st Century corporate leaders are getting a renewed sense that their place in the community also requires them to be involved in the common good. More than sponsoring community events, companies who value their contributions to the community are engaged in community service work as a company, and also encourage their employees to engage in individual volunteerism. In this way, corporate leaders help their people connect to the community as individuals and send the message that the company cares about the community as well.

Inspire and Connect

Corporate leaders can be just as successful as military leaders by inspiring and connecting their employees to something larger than just a paycheck. Leaders should demonstrate they care about the people they lead–and understand that leadership is a call to service rather than a mantle of success. No matter whether a company is for-profit or nonprofit, there is a purpose for the company to exist: it performs a service or produces a product people need. If there wasn’t a need, there would be no company. Leaders are responsible for helping their people see that they’re not simply creating paper or making a widget–they’re enabling others and filling a need in others’ lives. SpaceX is an excellent example: they’re going to Mars! Not every company is trying to revolutionize space travel and colonize another planet, but every company produces value or they won’t be in business for long!

Here’s the key: leaders help the employees see the value of the work they’re performing beyond the paycheck they receive each week. If leaders do that, if they truly inspire their teams and connect them to the larger mission and the community they serve, their teams will strive and reach high performance. What’s better, they’ll get there will enough gas in the tank to go farther and they’ll enjoy the journey as well.


Mickey's Rules for Leaders eBook CoverMickey believes everyone can reach high levels of performance if inspired and led. During his 28 year US Air Force career Mickey commanded thousands of Airmen, managed portfolios worth billions of dollars, and worked with military, civil, and industry officials around the world. He is a Distinguished Graduate from the Eisenhower School at National Defense University in Washington DC.

Mickey is the author of seven books, including Leading Leaders: Inspiring, Empowering, and Motivating Teams and The 5 Be’s For Starting Out. He’s a frequent contributor to industry publications and blogs.

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