Leadership Column: Connection to Purpose

Leadership Column: Connection to Purpose

When I was in my early teens I went to the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago with my Uncle Oz (Oscar Lubke).  As a former NFL player and All-American in college he stood at 6’4” tall with very broad shoulders, he was an executive for a banking group in Georgia, and in a lot of ways, he was a hero to me. 

We went to see the World War II submarine, back in those days it was still outside. I remember walking back from the sub, looking up at my uncle, and telling him thank you for the great time it had been.

Last week I took my boys to the same museum, saw the same submarine, and we walked down a similar hallway where my oldest said something which was almost word for word what had come out of my mouth.

In that moment I looked down and saw a younger version of me. My uncle’s been gone for 30 years, but the moment made it so close you could almost touch it.

Life often imitates life.

More often than not, I’ve had some pretty incredible people to learn from. From former CEOs to direct supervision, it’s been a mostly wonderful experience and when it hasn’t been, I’ve learned a lot about what not to do in the future.

One of the most important lessons has been to bring inspiration to people because they need it. My best leaders inspired others by connecting them to the purpose of what they were doing. 

Higher purpose matters.

Recently I’ve found myself living the other side of multiple events in my career and it’s been an interesting experience. From people outside reaching out to me for help and career advice, to those within my organization and their own challenges, I keep seeing the view from the other side. 

It’s got me thinking about the right things to do to connect people to purpose:

  1. They’ve come to tell you something, hear them.
  2. Let them know what you heard and ensure you are on the same page. Don’t finish their thought and run, assumptions ruin relationships.
  3. Here I’ve had people lead me to water and I’ve had people tell me how to find water. What’s important is not how you do it but rather making sure they walk away able to do this themselves in the future. 
  4. Now connect what they are doing to the higher purpose. Ensure they know the why, so the value can be felt.
  5. Follow up later and see how they’re doing with it. Don’t set it and forget it, make sure they’re good and make sure they feel it.

Leadership, at least for my profession, comes down to people, projects, and money. It’s a three-legged stool. 

The first leg is the most important, making sure people feel as important as they are – it’s critical. Nothing is worse than a valued colleague that feels forgotten.  It’s bad for the person, for the team, and ultimately for the organization. No one who’s been forgotten does their best work; no one who’s been forgotten stays for the right reasons (if they stay at all). 

My best leaders supported others and celebrated them whether they were on their way up or on their way out. Don’t commit the crime of being the one to forget. Learn what people value and connect them to the purpose of what they do, so they can see the impact of their effort.

They deserve to be excited about it.

After all, what feels better than knowing you made an impact?