Over thirty years, I have often approached someone in the appropriate university office to provide some coverage on one of my new books. Usually they do something helpful and do a good job of it, and I am appreciative. Sometimes nothing happens. On these latter occasions, I realize the people live in competing demands, and I think little of it. My expectations operate within the conventional assumptions of hierarchy, scarce resources, and external motivations.
A few months ago, I had a few meetings with various people about the possible promotion of a new book my colleague and I wrote. Then a few days ago, I received an email from another person in the organization who was not at those meetings, but she had heard about the new book. She was thrilled with the idea of doing a large workshop that would not only promote the book but touch the lives of hundreds of people. My first reaction was surprise; then I felt awash in gratitude.
When we met, she was full of enthusiasm, and we began to build on each other’s ideas. What emerged was a vision that neither of us could have conceived individually. Everything in the vision was designed to help other people, and marketing the book was a secondary consequence. After twenty minutes, we both left committed to an exciting plan.
As I reflected on that email and meeting, I thought of all the other times when this woman behaved in a similar manner. This is a woman with vision, yet she can organize complex events down to the last detail and run them unfazed by the inevitable stressors. In doing this, she always maintains a focus on the common good, saturating any instrumental intent with moral power. The focus is always on contribution and service.
While she has been the motor driving many major events in the organization, she receives minimal public attention. While she values external appreciation, it is not her motivator. She lives in a state of higher purpose. She is one of those positive energizers who makes great things happen because she lives in the fundamental state of leadership, a state of internal motivation and disciplined contribution.
Organizations function by the assumptions of social exchange. People work for money. People do their jobs. When approached with a legitimate request, they put another item on their to-do list. Eventually they execute their duty and their job is done. Since each job requires the exertion of energy and humans are programed to conserve their energy, normal people do not seek out extra tasks to put on their list. They simply react to the social expectations that drive the organization. Indeed, adding endless extra tasks would be impractical and ineffective.
Yet there are always a few people who have evolved to a deeper level of understanding. They do not seek out endless additional tasks; in fact, they may seek to do less tasks than the normal person. They seek instead to understand their own highest purpose (which always has to do with contribution) and the highest purpose of the organization (which also always has to do with contribution). These individuals operate at the intersection of the two higher purposes. They are proactive: they seek out selective extra tasks that will do the most good for the most people. They become fully engaged to make a positive difference in the human network. As they do, they experience a deep sense of meaning. They come to realize that in seeking out more such tasks, everyone wins.
I am grateful for the people in my life who have learned to live in the fundamental state of leadership, who operate from purpose and choose to go the extra mile. Their contributive outlook inspires me to live in the same unconventional state.
- Who are the people of contributive vision in your life?
- How are they different from others?
- What would happen if more people became actors of contributive vision?
- How could we use this passage to create a more positive organization?