Here's what we've learned. Successful leaders work with their team to create, develop, nurture and execute on a shared sense of purpose. It's an essential ingredient for great organizations. Without that purpose, everything is harder than it should be. If you are looking to understand how to evolve your organization, to make it agile, effective, innovative;  if you want to set the standard for whatever it is you do, consider the role that purpose plays on your team -- is it central to your thinking? Is it current? Is everyone focused on it? Does everyone understand it?

There are several doors that are unlocked by purpose.

  1. Engagement -- The notion that an engaged workforce is vastly more effective than a disengaged workforce is working its way into the mainstream, in no small part due to the seminal research and well presented reports of Blessing White. But engagement is not an objective, it's a side effect of being part of a purpose-driven organization. You measure the quality of leadership by the level of engagement. You do not build engagement, you build purpose-driven teams.
  2. Collaboration -- We know that diverse teams accomplish more, of higher quality and faster than individuals on their own. But the key enabler of collaboration is a shared objective and mission. Without these shared interests teams flounder.
  3. Prioritization -- In a world of endless possibilities -- how do we decide what we do and do not pursue? Purpose is the filter for evaluating what pursuits will be of greatest value.
  4. Decision making -- Every project consists of hundreds of decisions -- some large, some minute. Without clear criteria, decisions are difficult to make -- how do we pick from a variety of options? Purpose can be the northstar -- the direction that helps make these decisions make sense.

With a clear sense of purpose, each of these is easier. Without it each can become a quagmire. If you're looking to improve the efficiency, quality, impact of your organization -- your best investment might be in your purpose. Why now? Because this whole Enterprise 2.0/Social Business thing is not just about relationships and communication. A connected organization is a perfect vehicle for Leadership. A connected organization makes leadership more effective, and opens opportunities for new kinds of leaders and leadership to evolve.

When people are motivated to do great things, and they are aligned with the other people they are working with on the goal -- when they are part of something together- - things work. Apple, Zappos, Amazon, Chrysler, the United Nations, the Navy Seals -- these are the kinds of teams that have a shared purpose. These are the teams that set a new standard for what an organization can do.

We've set up a speaker series to introduce you to some of the thinkers, scholars and businesspeople who've helped shape our view of teams, leadership and collaboration, and our focus on the pursuit of purpose. The series starts July 11 with Simon Sinek ("Start With Why"). If you'll be in New York, please join us. [Sign up here - we only have 100 seats].

To illustrate the point I've written this somewhat exaggerated "letter" about what it's like to work in an organization where the purpose is not yet clear or has become fuzzy. A lot of what this Enterprise 2.0/ Social Business thing is about is recognizing that these new communications tools are not just a channel for "engagement" or "collaboration" but also a very important medium for leadership '- the relationships and transparency of a well functioning social business expands the reach and impact of leadership, at the same time as creating opportunities for new kinds of leadership.

An Open Letter to the C-Suite from Your Team

RE: The Engagement Thing

Dear Leadership Team of the Disengaged Organization,

We -- your team -- are here for you. In every sense.

Do you ever wonder why everything seems to be much harder than it should be? We do too.
You've hired us to do the work you want to get done. We've recently heard you say that you want to build engagement and collaboration within the organization.

We hope that you mean it. We want to collaborate and we want to care and we want to engage, but there are some things holding us back.

First -- We have no idea what you're up to. Or what you want. You might think we do, but trust us, we don't. We do not understand your objectives and your strategy. And, perhaps most importantly, we don't know what kind of decisions you're making. If you are still working out some of the issues, let us know where you are on the journey. Include us. If you have made progress in your thinking share it with us often. Really often -- not just on quarterly calls. An internal blog or more informal notes to us on a regular basis will help us feel more connected, understand and support your work.

Second -- because there is this mystery about what is going on in your heads -- a lack of transparency -- we invent and imagine your reasoning. What we make up is usually entirely wrong. We invent all kinds of strange justifications for what we see -- or don't see -- you doing. A little transparency will not only build our confidence in you, but it will help us build our relationships with each other.

Third -- Because we don't know your thoughts on the purpose and value of our organization or whether and how you're trying to form them or fulfill them, we struggle to work with one another as a team. We lack the key criterion for collaboration -- a shared sense of purpose. My esteemed colleague over there is doing what he thinks is right, or feels serves his interests, and I'm over here doing the same. Since we don't have a shared goal or framework for evaluating objectives, we don't have shared interests, and we have trouble agreeing on the right path. It's not always pretty. Our mutual respect is eroded. Sometimes it can get nasty. Guess who suffers? We do. And you do. And our customers do. And our shareholders do (I've heard you might own some stock as well).

Fourth -- That missing sense of purpose? It also impacts our ability to make a decision. And yours. Many decisions become political in the absence of a clear goal or outcome. Many important issues become a matter of opinion, because there are not clear criteria for decision making -- that is, there's no clear vision which guides other decisions small and large. Worse -- we're never certain when a decision is final, because political decisions tend to get made and remade -- it's never clear when it's over, and we spend way, way too much of our valuable time and energy fighting these battles rather than serving our customers. We lose our will.

Fifth -- We are, as I said, on your side. If you give us the chance to be part of your team you'll win our hearts and minds. We want to be won. We want to be recognized for our expertise and hard work, and feel that that work is effectively directed at a meaningful outcome. We assure you that we understand the market, our customers and our business, and that we know how to make it better -- but we do need the alignment of good leadership so that our efforts amplify one another rather than cancel each other out.

Sixth -- Platitudes can be toxic -- please avoid them. We all know what's going on here, and when you tell us that you recognize it too, you give us confidence that we can in fact make progress and make a difference. When you give us a whitewashed version of reality, well that is something that's very transparent. We really do understand that most issues are not simple. We understand that there can be a lot of gray area. Show us where the gray is and how you're trying to clarify it. Give us substantive insight into which is which and how you're currently thinking about the bad and the ugly. We won't bullshit you if you wont bullshit us.

Seventh -- You are probably worried that if you share the difficulty and complexity of the business with the entire team, that the world will know your secrets and the business will be ruined. We understand why you feel that way. But a team has loyalty, and we won't knowingly compromise you, especially if you're clear with us what should be "just between us". Don't forget that most people and businesses are shamed not by their flaws, but by what they do to hide them. Respect is earned when people strive to do better. If you want to do better, we need to leave behind the fiction that we're perfect. (Because if we are perfect, we then there's no need to improve, right?)