A phone call came from a woman who holds an influential administrative position and is also president of her professional organization. She read our recent paper in the Harvard Business Review, How to Create a Purpose Driven Organization. She found it valuable because she sees no other way to align the diverse people in her organization. Her mind has been continually on the topic and on the question of how to move forward.
She attended a talk on leadership by the dean of a prestigious professional school. She was impressed by his words and asked a sincere question: “What is your highest personal purpose and how to you embed higher purpose in your organization?”
There was an uncomfortable silence. Finally he muttered, “I am not sure what you mean,” and he returned to his previous topic. She realized that she had unintentionally embarrassed the man and this caused her to feel deeply embarrassed.
Then something surprising happened. At the end of the talk, she was surrounded by people. They all wanted to discuss the notion of imbuing an organization with a sense of higher purpose. She described the event as a profound learning experience. She moved from a previous sense of isolation and self-doubt to the realization that there are many people, like her, who desire to create organizations of higher purpose. This gave her the courage to move forward in doing what she does not know how to do.
- How many people in positions of leadership are like the dean? How many never even entertain the idea that an organization can be imbued with a higher purpose? Why are there so many?
- What need drove the people who surrounded her after the talk?
- What critical benefit did she derive from the experience?
- How could we use this passage to create a more positive organization?