The Power Of Purpose

The events of September 11, 2001 have rocked the world.  Terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York, the Pentagon in Washington, and in Pennsylvania have caused us to take notice. 

It has also been the impetus for a unity of purpose for many people around the world.  U.S. citizens have joined together in response to the attacks, in using the symbol of the flag as a source of unity, and in a willingness to make a united effort to make the United States and the world a safer place to live.  Citizens from many other countries have joined in a resolve to rid the world of terrorism and to put an end to senseless loss of life.

To accomplish these lofty goals it will require great sacrifice from many people.

The Power and the problem 
When we look for a way to make sense out of tragedy we look to values that are bigger and more powerful than our individual concerns.  It is an instinctual response to threat that is as ingrained as the “fight or flight” reaction to the immediate danger.  Human beings have survived and flourished by banding together to overcome the common dangers we faced.  Leaders emerge from this crisis because they are able to articulate the values and engender the commitment necessary to overcome the adversity. 

Unfortunately this is not the sole response to tragedy.  The impulse to unite often finds itself in conflict with inclinations that are less lofty and which threaten to disrupt the unity and commitment that exists. For example, many organizations are under increased pressure because of the economic consequences of the attack.  These organizations need workers to be more focused and to work harder at the corporate goals, which may seem very different than the nation’s goals.  The survival of the company may depend on a rapid return to “business-as-usual.” 

What is a citizen-worker to do? Although the organization’s goals are understandable, the tension between goals to survive the economic crisis and the goals to participate in a united response of the nation will result in higher levels of stress in the workforce.  Some will feel forced to choose and will become disillusioned as a result.  Does he act as a good citizen and do what he can to help the nation respond?  Does she act as a good employee and try to put aside the events of the past month and return to the work of the company?   

Even though this may be a misinterpretation based on a belief that the citizen-worker must choose one or the other, it will still be felt by many workers.  When people are under extreme stress, complex information is ignored because it overloads the cognitive system.  Under stress, people tend to see things in black and white, all or nothing categories.  They act on the basis of what they “perceive” to be true, even if their perception is limited. 

Now, more than ever, it is important for business leaders to articulate a purpose that transcends the day-to-day tasks of the work world.  It must be clearly stated in a way that will help the citizen-worker to see that his/her efforts can make a positive difference.  Questions like these should be addressed: 
     How does your work contribute to the welfare of the human community?   
     What does your product or service do to improve the lives of those who use it?   
     In what way can your company support and improve the quality of life of your citizen-workers?   

The first of the “Vitamin C’s” of the Emotionally Healthy Workplace I identified is “Commitment.”  The outpouring of support for the victims of the terrorist attacks and the response of the American people in public gatherings is visible proof of the power of commitment.  People want something of value in their lives.  We all need something that gives meaning and purpose to our actions. 
When an action is done out of commitment to a larger value, the citizen-worker will take pride in work.  She will work harder and longer to make sure it is done right.  He will utilize all of his talent to make a positive difference. 

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Here is one practical suggestion for improving your commitment to the values in your company: 












Value 1            Value 2            Value 3            Value 4            Value 5

First, on a blank piece of paper draw five columns across the page (formed by six vertical lines approximately 6 inches in height).  At the bottom of each column list an important value to which your organization adheres. Examples of values could include: independence, joyfulness, creativity, comradeship, empowerment, growth or many others.  Look at the mission statement of your company to see what values are reflected there.  How do these values interconnect with the national and international efforts to make this world a better place in which to live? 

Next, rate each value on a scale of 1 to 10, “How well is this company reflecting this value in day to day operations?”  A 10 would indicate that the value is central to virtually everything the organization does in its daily operations.  A 1 would be a value that is rarely, if ever, a part of the actual working of the company.  (Most values will be neither a 10 nor a 1, but will fall in between.) 
Finally, pick one of those values and ask yourself these questions: 

Changes like these take place at two levels.  First, without a clear picture of the goal (What does a “10” look like?) we will never have the motivation to work to get there.  Second, the change takes place by engaging in small steps from where we are to where we want to go.  

Leadership (from many sources within a company) is necessary to make these changes and can have a major impact on the quality of lives for all who are a part of the company.  It is not a return to business-as-usual, but an effort to make business better and more responsive than ever before.  It is a way to give to the human community without giving up the success of the company.  When we act out of our true values we grow in strength and in true power.  That is not to say that such a commitment might not require sacrifice in the short run, but it pays value in the long run for us and for our world.  Don’t miss the opportunity.