What is it that unites and unifies individuals to support a cause to the extent they are willing to risk and potentially sacrifice themselves for a higher purpose?
As we were thinking about writing our upcoming book and collaborating about our experiences in the leadership arena, we knew we had to start with what matters most to leaders – having a unity of purpose. How would you define Unity of Purpose?
Typically when we ask this question in our leadership sessions, we often hear that unity of purpose is a mission statement. However, this is a myth that needs to be clarified. A mission statement is NOT a Unity of Purpose.
Unity of Purpose energizes a team so they operate as one unit fighting for the same cause. Our job at LeadAdvantage is to un-complicate and simplify. So we would like to un-complicate Unity of Purpose. We believe it is The Why. Why we do what we do. It is why we are willing to work 45-50 plus hours a week, why we sometimes postpone vacations in order to complete a project, why we are willing to occasionally miss our child’s soccer match to finish a report, why we are willing to work over the weekend and often times, are the only car in the parking lot, and why sometimes we miss dinner with our family and arrive home after the kids are already in bed. Again, it is why we do what we do.
What really captured this point for us was, This Above All, by Erik Knight.
In the book the author tells a story about the battle of Dunkirk, which was a devastating defeat for England, but also later became a defining moment. The Battle of Dunkirk took place in Dunkirk, France, during the Second World War between the Allies and Germany. The war had dragged on and on and on and the morale was at an all time low. Then the Battle of Dunkirk occurred and the morale, which was already at an all time low, sunk even lower. This is the point the book picks up with a veteran soldier and a young lieutenant reflecting on Dunkirk and what happened that led to such a devastating breakdown and loss. The young lieutenant said, “I don’t understand what happened. In the military we are taught to fight with organization, discipline and unity. But what you are saying to me is in the Battle of Dunkirk, there was no organization, discipline and unity. What went wrong?” To which the veteran soldier replied, “You are right son. We are taught to fight with organization and discipline, but at Dunkirk the chain of command failed the soldiers by failing to remind them of what we were fighting for, our purpose, The Why. Without being reminded of the purpose and the why, by the thousands, the soldiers were laying down their arms and walking off the battlefield…hence the devastating defeat.”
The message for all of us is if I work for you and I understand our purpose and what we are fighting for – The Why – I will fight to the bitter end for our cause. But if I do not know The Why, do not understand our purpose, or no longer remember what we are fighting for, then I will lay down my arms and walk off your battlefield…either figuratively, mentally checking out, or literally. Either way, same outcome.
Following the Battle of Dunkirk, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, reunited his country and rallied the nation with one of his most famous speeches (We Shall Fight on the Beaches) ending with “We shall go on to the end, we shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender…” This became the defining moment.
Unity of Purpose is creating something worth fighting for and sacrificing for, that everyone believes in, that unites a team. Do you know that you have created that type of unified purpose on your team, and how do you know?
Contact LeadAdvantage if your team can use a “Unity of Purpose.”