Margaret Mead, Cultural Anthropologist, famously said: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has”. Whenever that quote has come to mind for me, it’s been in relation to the achievement of significant things; things of scale; things that have caught the eye of the public – invariably because of media attention.
Recently however, I had the privilege of spending a few days and nights with 10 people I’d not met before. They were all employees of the same organisation brought together as a cohort in a Leadership Programme I’d been invited to facilitate.
I have learned, over the years, not to make assumptions about clients (knowing that they can make an ‘ass’ out of ‘u’ and ‘me’) based on scuttlebutt or industry.
But if I had to, I would have assumed – correctly, as it turns out – that the participants would be bright, capable, organisationally savvy, high achievers. (They are, after all, in senior positions and participating in a Leadership Programme that their organisation is investing significant dollars, time and support into – no doubt expecting a decent return on said investment!).
Nor had I made any assumptions about the participant’s likely level of engagement, willingness to learn and share their experiences and wisdom with each other. Neither did I have a view about the likelihood of passion and loyalty for their organisation but again, if pushed, it would have been that engagement, loyalty and passion would lean towards the high end of the scale. And with this group, that also would have been right.
What I found refreshing, and rather inspiring, was how this cross functional, multi dimensional group came together to focus on improvement opportunities that they could own and undertake, regardless of whether there were any specific or immediate benefits for their own teams or function. They put the needs of the organisation and it’s myriad parts, first.
Daniel Pink, in his book ‘Drive’ unpacks Internal Motivation into three components: Autonomy (the desire to direct our own lives); Mastery (the urge to get better and better at something that matters; and Purpose (the yearning to do what we do in the service of something larger than ourselves).
In discussion with the group, it became clear that Purpose was the primary driver for them to come together to contribute in a more meaningful manner. Most of them indicated this was partly because (i) they had reached a stage in their lives and careers where the greater good mattered to them more and partly because (ii) the potential for their organisation to help or hinder, with its wide reaching tentacles into society, made them think more about the impact of their actions while in service to others.
Because of their individual senses of purpose, they co-created some far-reaching ideas that will require commitment and courage to implement. Will they do it? I have no doubt whatsoever.
This group had more individual and collective stickability than I’ve seen across a number of organisations for quite a while. Their desire to genuinely make a difference combined with loyalty to their organisation, their own teams and their stakeholders, was practically oozing out of them. Not in an evangelical, in-your-face way but with sincerity and a care for the environment and others that was all the more impressive because they don’t realise just how rarely their sort of commitment – to a purpose greater than the needs of their own egos – shows up.
My time with these 10 fine citizens makes me hopeful about the positive impact that a committed group of individuals can have on the culture of their chosen organisation, which in turn extends to communities, because their actions ripple.
And that leads me to wonder whether, at midlife, with years of striving and achieving under our collective belts, more of us could set aside our own egos – even for just a few hours each week – to use the skills, energy and ability to strive, that has gotten us where we are in our careers and lives, for a greater good. A Purpose larger than ourselves.
Does Purpose motivate you? How do you role model Purpose, to others?