Dynamic Dozen: People Need a Purpose, Not Just a Paycheck

Posted Posted in GeneralLeadership.com, Practical Leadership

S.L.A._Marshall“A man has integrity if his interest in the good of the service is at all times greater than his personal pride, and when he holds himself to the same line of duty when unobserved as he would follow if his superiors were present”
– General S.L.A. Marshall

It was very dark and cold on the flightline at Ahmed Al Jaber Air Base where teams of Airmen and a Kuwaiti contractor were working furiously in the desert night to repair a critical fuel line prior to the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom. The fuel line had been damaged in the 1991 war, and we were racing the calendar to get fuel to the airplanes who would launch the opening of the liberation of Iraq. No one knew the exact date we’d “go north,” but we all knew it was soon. Getting the air base ready for combat was our purpose.

As I made the rounds checking on my engineers and talking with the contractors, I made sure to thank them for the very important work they were doing. The Airmen were in cold and miserable conditions, but all of them were upbeat and positive. “Sir, we know this project is important and we’re proud to be here!” one of them said in the darkness. He knew what was coming and was excited because he was doing his mission. Our Kuwaiti site superintendent gave me the most moving response, however. When I shook his hand and thanked him for his work, in heavily accented English he said simply, “Sir, it is our duty.”

The Myth vs Reality of Military Leadership

Watch almost any military story told on film and you’ll eventually meet the “Colonel Jessup” character–you know, the guy who feels the insignia on his sleeve or collar entitles him to give orders that are followed without question. It’s a popular myth, but it is a myth. While there are certainly occasions for swift and decisive action, good leaders know people aren’t robots and need to know the “why,” especially if there’s danger involved. Further, and more to the point, when leaders give their people a purpose larger than themselves instead of just a paycheck, their relationship transcends the transactional and enters the realm of high performance.

We actually do an exceptional job in the military of giving people a higher purpose to attach to themselves and their work. It’s part of the military leadership model to ensure the team understands and to the maximum extent possible buys into the mission. In war, especially modern war, we expect even the most junior leaders to understand their commander’s purpose and even anticipate that commander’s decisions. The military orders process includes rehearsals and detailed explanations of the plan. We explain how individual tasks fit into the overall plan. Furthermore, military leaders know our work is dangerous and so spend a great deal of energy motivating their teams to understand the risks and why those risks might be necessary.

It’s the same in the day-to-day training environment. Leaders spend energy personally helping the entire team, from the newest “one-striper” the the seasoned veterans understand and appreciate their contribution to the overall mission. It’s common for people to be able to connect even the most mundane tasks to the mission of the larger unit–it’s often the unit motto. “We fuel the warfighter!”, “No comm, no bomb!”–you get the idea. Regardless of whether someone is carrying a rifle, flying a plane, cooking a meal, or repairing an air conditioner, he knows how his particular job contributes to the larger mission.

Private Sector Companies Get It Too

The most successful private sector companies are very good at giving their employees a purpose instead of just a paycheck. There are loads of great examples, but Recreational Equipment Inc (REI) and Space Exploration Technologies, Inc. (SpaceX) are among my favorite examples. REI sells outdoor apparel and equipment, and SpaceX is in the space launch business. Despite being in vastly different industries, they have many things in common. Both companies are innovators, with REI crushing their competitors with record sales and profits, and SpaceX setting a new standard for space launch. They also have something else in common: they are impressively successful at giving their team members as since of higher purpose–a mission. For REI, their mission is to get people outside to enjoy the great outdoors; SpaceX is going to Mars.

To these teams, their purpose is a greater motivation than the bottom line. To be sure, profit and loss statements are the lifeblood of any business—but the heart and soul of that business is the purpose. Leaders who can inspire by connecting individual effort to the overall mission of the organization are the ones who can get high performance from their teams. When that purpose itself is inspirational, so much the better. Case in point is the video below—SpaceX employees cheering the launch and landing of their Falcon 9 rocket like it was the Super Bowl. That sort of excitement doesn’t come from a good compensation package. It comes from visionary leadership energizing the team with the knowledge they’re part of something important. It’s no surprise then, that REI is in an elite category for outdoor equipment and SpaceX is about to launch the same rocket for the second time dramatically lowering the cost of space travel.

Inspire Them, Lead Them

Not everyone is going to Mars or helping people enjoy the great outdoors, but every business leader can help their teams understand their contribution to society and community. Retailers supply the needs and wants of the community, service industry businesses are the fuel for other businesses, city service providers keep the community clean and healthy. All but the most esoteric of luxury businesses contribute directly to the well-being and success of the community. The lesson is this: If you want to lead your organizations to high performance, the inspire them first by giving them a purpose, not just a paycheck.

Originally posted on General Leadership.


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.

#TBT What’s My Purpose?

Posted Leave a commentPosted in From the Blogs, Pure Inspiration

When reaching the end of their careers, military veterans are often faced with difficult questions.  There are, of course, the practical considerations of finances and family, but the biggest question for the vet is not where he’ll live or how he’ll make his living.  The biggest question for the retiring vet is what’s my purpose?

The military vet has spent years in the service of others, often at great personal cost, and through thick and thin it has been their sense of duty, that the mission is more important than themselves that had kept them going.  Some have sacrificed much, others not as much, but as the saying goes all gave some.  So when the bullets are flying, or when Dad can’t be there for a major event in a child’s life, or another Christmas is spent talking on vidchat instead of being together around the table, the warrior and his/her family content themselves with the knowledge that the sacrifice was somehow worth it.  In short, military life has purpose.US Air Force Honor Guard (USAF Photo)

But when that service ends, the military vet more often than not needs to find something to replace the mission he had as a soldier.  It’s not as easy as you might think. There are Transition Assistance Programs in the military to help these (mostly) still young people cross over from the military into civilian life.  “Re-discovering” one’s purpose after 10, 20, or 30 years is not easy. These servicemembers still have a lot to contribute and many retain the desire to serve.

I suppose that’s why so many vets become entrepreneurs and why so many companies are eager to hire veterans.  Vets “get it”: they show up on time, they do what’s expected and more.

Enter Team Rubicon.  I spotted this inspirational story in Inc. Magazine about two Marine vets who started something that is impacting the world.   Even after their military service ended, their sense of duty didn’t:

In January 2010, U.S. Marine Corps veterans Jake Wood and William McNulty stared a catastrophic problem in the face.

In the immediate wake of the Haitian earthquake that month, aid organizations were stymied by reports of insecure conditions on the ground. Wood, who had been a Marine scout-sniper and left the military just months before, posted on Facebook that he wanted to travel to Port-au-Prince and could use his security and medical experience to help.

After viewing the post, McNulty was eager to sign on. A veteran of Marine Corps infantry and intelligence, he knew Wood via blogs and a few Skype conversations they’d had in which they discussed business ideas. However, they had never met in person before.

Through the Jesuit high school he’d attended, McNulty met a Jesuit missionary in Haiti, who desperately needed a medical team to treat men, women, and children injured in the earthquake. Suddenly the veterans realized this would be their mission.

Read the Inc. profile here:  Meet the Veterans Launching Nonprofits to Change the World | Inc.com

Team Rubicon PhotoI share this story for two reasons.

First, I think the private sector has a gold mine in potential outstanding employees in our military veterans. A vet understands leadership and followership, he has incorporated important values like teamwork and service into his character, and responsibility, honesty, and duty are a part of her DNA. When a vet tells you as a potential employer, “I can do anything”, he means it because he has done lots of things, often things he never knew was in him before he started.  I’d like to encourage the private sector to hire our vets…they’ll produce!

Second, on this Veteran’s Day it’s important to reflect on the ways that our vets continue to serve, even out of uniform.  They’ve lived a life of purpose…serving their country and their fellow warriors…and that sense of duty doesn’t go away when they hung up the uniform in the closet.  Americans do appreciate the men and women who serve, and I know those men and women who served and continue to serve appreciate their fellow Americans’ gratitude.  That said, I think some times our warriors are humbled by their fellow citizen’s adulation.   After all, they’re merely doing their duty as best as they know how.

Today, the 95th anniversary of the 11th Hour of the 11th Day of the 11th Month when the guns fell silent on the Western Front during the Great War, I submit that how our vets can continue to serve is worthy of a little reflection.

And for America’s warriors, past and present: God bless’em, every one.

What’s My Purpose?

Posted Leave a commentPosted in From the Blogs, Pure Inspiration

When reaching the end of their careers, military veterans are often faced with difficult questions.  There are, of course, the practical considerations of finances and family, but the biggest question for the vet is not where he’ll live or how he’ll make his living.  The biggest question for the retiring vet is what’s my purpose?

The military vet has spent years in the service of others, often at great personal cost, and through thick and thin it has been their sense of duty, that the mission is more important than themselves that had kept them going.  Some have sacrificed much, others not as much, but as the saying goes all gave some.  So when the bullets are flying, or when Dad can’t be there for a major event in a child’s life, or another Christmas is spent talking on vidchat instead of being together around the table, the warrior and his/her family content themselves with the knowledge that the sacrifice was somehow worth it.  In short, military life has purpose.US Air Force Honor Guard (USAF Photo)

But when that service ends, the military vet more often than not needs to find something to replace the mission he had as a soldier.  It’s not as easy as you might think. There are Transition Assistance Programs in the military to help these (mostly) still young people cross over from the military into civilian life.  “Re-discovering” one’s purpose after 10, 20, or 30 years is not easy. These servicemembers still have a lot to contribute and many retain the desire to serve.

I suppose that’s why so many vets become entrepreneurs and why so many companies are eager to hire veterans.  Vets “get it”: they show up on time, they do what’s expected and more.

Enter Team Rubicon.  I spotted this inspirational story in Inc. Magazine about two Marine vets who started something that is impacting the world.   Even after their military service ended, their sense of duty didn’t:

In January 2010, U.S. Marine Corps veterans Jake Wood and William McNulty stared a catastrophic problem in the face.

In the immediate wake of the Haitian earthquake that month, aid organizations were stymied by reports of insecure conditions on the ground. Wood, who had been a Marine scout-sniper and left the military just months before, posted on Facebook that he wanted to travel to Port-au-Prince and could use his security and medical experience to help.

After viewing the post, McNulty was eager to sign on. A veteran of Marine Corps infantry and intelligence, he knew Wood via blogs and a few Skype conversations they’d had in which they discussed business ideas. However, they had never met in person before.

Through the Jesuit high school he’d attended, McNulty met a Jesuit missionary in Haiti, who desperately needed a medical team to treat men, women, and children injured in the earthquake. Suddenly the veterans realized this would be their mission.

Read the Inc. profile here:  Meet the Veterans Launching Nonprofits to Change the World | Inc.com

Team Rubicon PhotoI share this story for two reasons.

First, I think the private sector has a gold mine in potential outstanding employees in our military veterans. A vet understands leadership and followership, he has incorporated important values like teamwork and service into his character, and responsibility, honesty, and duty are a part of her DNA. When a vet tells you as a potential employer, “I can do anything”, he means it because he has done lots of things, often things he never knew was in him before he started.  I’d like to encourage the private sector to hire our vets…they’ll produce!

Second, on this Veteran’s Day it’s important to reflect on the ways that our vets continue to serve, even out of uniform.  They’ve lived a life of purpose…serving their country and their fellow warriors…and that sense of duty doesn’t go away when they hung up the uniform in the closet.  Americans do appreciate the men and women who serve, and I know those men and women who served and continue to serve appreciate their fellow Americans’ gratitude.  That said, I think some times our warriors are humbled by their fellow citizen’s adulation.   After all, they’re merely doing their duty as best as they know how.

Today, the 95th anniversary of the 11th Hour of the 11th Day of the 11th Month when the guns fell silent on the Western Front during the Great War, I submit that how our vets can continue to serve is worthy of a little reflection.

And for America’s warriors, past and present: God bless’em, every one.