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Inspire a Collective Purpose 

by | Jan 9, 2023 | KLC Framework

Much of the work of energizing others is inspiring them to move in the same direction. We don’t need everyone to move in the same way, or even for exactly the same reasons. Instead, if we want to make progress on a tough challenge, we need to energize lots of people to exercise leadership – in their own way, in their own circle of influence and on behalf of a common purpose.

Inspiring a collective purpose is bit of a paradox. 

Without a clear sense of purpose, you can’t lead. But at the same time, unless you are willing to make your purpose broad enough, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to energize all the stakeholders you need to create lasting change. 

Energize With Purposeful Questions

Before you go full speed ahead engaging others, pause and energize yourself by asking these questions:

  1. What is the change I want to see? (Remember the leadership principle: Leadership is about our toughest challenges.)
  2. Why do I care? (Ask yourself that one several times. Get at the reason behind the reason you care. Get to know what really drives you to spend time on this tough, adaptive challenge.) 
  3. Who shares my concern and aspirations? Is their why the same as mine? How might it be different? Can I expand my why to include theirs?
  4. What can I do pretty quickly to energize those people? (Quick wins are inspiring and will bring attention to your cause.)
  5. What would significant progress look like to me and those who think like me about this issue? How will I know we are gaining momentum? (Solving tough challenges takes time, so inspiring collective purpose includes aiming for and being prepared to celebrate incremental progress.)

Change me and my to we and our and those questions work great for diagnosing with your team. But don’t stop with energizing yourself and those who think like you. Push yourselves to work across factions:

  1. Who are other key stakeholders? What other factions do we need to energize to make progress on this challenge? Who else needs to exercise leadership if we are going to be successful? 
  2. What do they care about related to this challenge?
  3. Is our purpose, as we currently think about it, big enough to inspire those people?

Challenges yourselves to broaden your purpose to include more people:

  1. How will our purpose need to change or expand to inspire all the people we need to exercise leadership around this challenge?
  2. Whose point of view do we need to understand more about? What questions do we need to ask them?

Chances are, as you turn towards other factions and start asking about their perspectives, you will feel a change happening in how you relate to one another. Questions are deceptively energizing. In the act of asking curious questions, collective purpose begins to emerge.

Don’t Get Stuck on Strategy and Tactics

Too often (and with well-intended enthusiasm) we skip conversations about purpose and jump right to trying to get people on board with our wonderful ideas. 

  • Purpose is what you believe in. It’s the big why. It’s what you go back to when your energy wanes.
  • Strategy is the general approach and combination of activities and resources designed to accomplish your larger purpose.
  • Tactics are the actions, programs or services you choose as part of your strategy.

If you are having trouble getting people to exercise the necessary leadership to make progress on your challenge, have more conversations about why it’s important. Listen more than you talk. Listen for ways to make your purpose more inclusive. Listen for ways to make it clearer and more inspiring. Give people a chance to talk about their values related to the common challenge. Don’t work too hard at building consensus. But do listen carefully and try to help everyone feel connected in some way to where the group is headed. As your sense of collective purpose evolves, test it with people. Is it energizing for them?

Then – when you have broad support around purpose – you are better set to choose strategy and tactics, the how and who and what and when. Bottom line for all who seek to energize others: Don’t get attached to a certain approach or the perfect program or product for addressing a need until key people have figured out why they should care in the first place.

Make it Real: Inspiring a Collective Purpose

Here’s an example (fictional but drawn from real life leadership challenges people bring to KLC programs.) Lev is the owner of a business in a rural town far from a major urban area. He is having trouble recruiting people to work in his business and has become convinced that he can’t solve this problem alone. His neighbors and fellow members of the local chamber of commerce have similar problems. (You can read about how Lev got started on his leadership journey on page 94 of our book When Everyone Leads: How the Toughest Challenges Get Seen and Solved.)

Since realizing that his challenge is complex and adaptive, rather than technical (and that all the advertising in the world won’t bring in the talent he is looking for), Lev has thought a lot about recruiting people to small towns and looked at all the best practices about supporting rural development. But even as he gets excited about ideas and programs and funding streams that have worked in other places, he also understands the need to engage many more people locally around a sense of shared purpose that can sustain collaboration for years, even decades.

So, instead of trying to convince others to get behind his big ideas for workforce development, he starts asking energizing questions. Everywhere he goes he’s provoking conversation and inspiring people to think for themselves: What do you think it will take for us to build a thriving community for the 2020s and beyond?


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