Reflection and Purpose

Creating an organization of higher purpose is a leadership desire that is often acquired through crisis.  Yet there are some exceptions.  Occasionally I encounter a leader who comes to the desire by reflecting upon the experiences of others.  Usually such leaders have uncommon wisdom.  I recently talked to such a person.

He was the CEO of a large company.  In the three years he had been CEO, they had accomplished much.  His team had defined winning, formulated a strategy, created an operational playbook, and established an incentive plan.  The company thus had direction and there were many signs of progress.  He described three areas of achievement that he considered extraordinary.

He went on to explain his belief that there was a next stage.  He recounted the history of some well-known companies in which he had worked.  They had exhibited similar progress but then he watched them lose their way.  In each case instrumental reasoning led to a mechanistic view of the workforce.  Managers viewed employees as robots ready for continual direction.  Performance began to decay.  Crisis followed.  He did not want to replicate what other leaders had done.

He expressed his belief that for a company to succeed, the workforce must be fully engaged.  He wanted to move from directing people to winning hearts.  He wanted to move from direction and compliance to enrollment and leadership.  To do this, he wanted to find the transcendent purpose of the organization, a statement of contribution that would be compelling.

He suggested creating a day of learning for his executive team during which they would co-create two products.  The first would be an agreed-upon process for moving forward in the creation of the purpose statement.  The second would be an agreed-upon process for eventually moving the higher purpose through the entire organization.  The day would not bring task closure; instead it would open a learning journey.


  • In this account, the CEO described two stages. What would you label the two stages and what insights do you derive from reflecting upon them?
  • How did the CEO come to conceptualize stage two? What might you learn from this?
  • What wisdom do you see in his vision for the day of learning? What implication does it have for your future actions?
  • How could we use this passage to create a more positive organization?

One comment on “Reflection and Purpose

  1. Having the day to come up with an agreed upon process tome forward with purpose, and then an agreed-upon way to involve the whole organization is brilliant. So often there is so much focus on task completion that a group might rush this process and find that what they have come up with is really not resonating with their employees at all. It’s about trusting the emergent process.

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