Learning to Lead from Purpose: An Epiphany

Positive deviance means moving away from the norm in an honorable way. Teaching positive deviance is hard because it is outside the conventional mindset. Intelligent people have difficulty understanding the concept. Occasionally I get lucky, and someone in the room does the teaching for me. I was just starting to speak about leadership and the power of purpose when a participant in one of my sessions shared a personal account. It was simple, tangible, and profound.

“I am an engineer. I was asked to coach my son’s robotics team. They built robots, and things were going fine. We then went to a competition and we lost. There were kids at this competition who were operating at the level of excellence. I watched those other kids. They had a sense of purpose, and they were fully engaged. It was a contrast. I took my kids aside and we had a long discussion about purpose. Because of what was going on around us, they understood. After that, there was a dramatic change. The kids became invested, and the quality of their work soared.”

“The change was extreme and for me, it was an epiphany, a breakthrough. I began to question my own leadership. I asked myself, ‘If understanding purpose has this much impact on a group of kids, why am I not leading in this same way at work?’ I went to work, and I began to focus everything on purpose. Almost immediately, there was a change. It was just like with the robotics team. I believe that helping people operate from an authentic, shared purpose is the first responsibility of a leader.”


  • What is an epiphany? Why did it occur? What new capacity did this man have?
  • What does it mean to live and lead from purpose? Why did the kids understand purpose when most executives do not? What does your answer suggest about what you might do?
  • What percent of authority figures in the world believe that their first responsibility as a leader is to help the people operate from an authentic, shared purpose? What would happen if your boss made this change? What would happen if you made this change? What keeps you from making this change?
  • How could we use this passage to create a more positive organization?