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Leading with Character: A Sense of Purpose

Since childhood, I’ve been guided by a sense of purpose. Often, it was an unconscious drive from within to strive—and as I matured—to resolve to be worthy. I believe this innate sense of purpose was roused by influential people in my life: parents, grandparents, teachers, and coaches among others. Yet I believe there’s also an internal drive that lies dormant within us, awaiting inspiration to emerge. Although many of us share this quality of an inner sense of purpose, not everyone has found a way to harness its power. That’s where well-led organizations and leaders of character can make a huge difference.

Inspiring the Workforce

This week I traveled to Rock Island, IL for my first board meeting with Modern Woodmen of America. As I power-walked the bike trail along the mighty Mississippi River, the morning sun illuminated the American Flag flying high above the Modern Woodmen Home Office building gracing the far shore. I thought about how fortunate I’ve been to serve as a member of two organizations with character-centered leadership and a deep sense of purpose that engages and inspires their workforce and stakeholders/customers: the US Coast Guard and Modern Woodmen of America. One is a government organization that saves lives, enforces laws, protects the maritime environment, keeps America safe and secure, and much more. The other is a member-owned fraternal financial company that, through financial guidance and social, educational, and volunteer activities improves the quality of life for its members and the communities where they live, work and play.

Values-Centered Ethos and Creed

Following the disruption caused by the Covid pandemic over the past few years, it seems people in the workplace are re-evaluating their goals and objectives and are seeking that elusive sense of purpose. Leaders who understand this, and reach out to meet employees where they are to help connect them to the organization’s purpose, are the ones who will succeed. The Coast Guard and Modern Woodmen are modeling the way with purposeful missions upheld by their values-centered ethos or creed:

US Coast Guard Ethos

In Service to our Nation
With Honor, Respect, and Devotion to Duty
We protect
We defend
We save
We are Semper Paratus
We are the United States Coast Guard

Modern Woodmen Creed

All that we send into the lives of others comes back into our own

Connecting People to a Shared Purpose

In the Coast Guard, I started out at the very bottom and worked hard to achieve my goals and objectives. Even though the Coast Guard is an incredible organization with a strong purpose and values, there were times when I wanted to quit, when I lost sight of the bigger picture and my sense of purpose. But then, a supervisor would assign me a new task, a mentor would give me a word of encouragement, or I’d partake in an exciting mission or activity that would reconnect me. My sense of purpose was even stronger when I was part of a team, like when I was a member of a crew onboard a Coast Guard cutter. There, we had a shared purpose. No one crew member could succeed on their own; it took the entire team working together to accomplish the mission.

If employees lack enthusiasm and commitment, maybe it’s because they’re not connected to a sense of purpose, or better yet, shared purpose. As a leader, you should engage with each employee to ensure they understand the organization or company’s mission and values, and how their work contributes to their team’s success and overall mission success. You should also help each employee envision how they can reach their goals and objectives to achieve their version of professional and personal success. Taking the time to communicate expectations and boundary conditions is crucial to an employee’s ability to perform at their best and hence to help the organization succeed.

Look in the mirror. Does your organization have a stated mission and a values-centered ethos or creed? Have you engaged with your employees to connect them to a sense of purpose?

Please join me next time for more on Leading with Character.

If you enjoyed this post, please visit my website where you can sign up for my mailing list to get this blog in your inbox, and buy my book, Breaking Ice & Breaking Glass: Leading in Uncharted Waters (proceeds from my book are donated to the US Coast Guard Academy to help develop the next generation of leaders of character):