Mafia Advice: Teams With Clear Purpose Win

Remember Hyman Roth’s birthday party scene in Godfather II? It's Havana, Cuba, 1959. Michael Corleone shares a story with the assembled mobsters as they eat birthday cake.

Michael: “I saw an interesting thing happen today. A rebel was being arrested by the military police. And rather than being taken alive, he exploded a grenade he had hidden in his jacket. He killed himself, and he took a captain of the command with him. Right, Jonny?”

Jonny: “These rebels. You know they are lunatics.”

Michael: “Maybe so. But it occurred to me, soldiers are paid to fight. The rebels aren’t.”

Hyman: “What does that tell you?”

Michael: “They can win.”

Prescient. He's the Godfather. 

What Is The Purpose Of Your Leadership Team?

In business, as in revolution, leadership teams that are capable of activating purpose in their culture are far more likely to win. 

If a team lacks absolute clarity about it's purpose and the purpose of the business it leads, then it's unlikely to inspire and activate the purpose of an organization. Ripples cascade from there, and they can be expensive. 

The reason is simple. As much as we might live our lives in the shallow end of the pool, we need depth. It’s an existential thing. For those of us who are awake and want to get something done, we need to know why. It's built into us. Without a 'why,' we lack meaning, and we lose focus.

What I've learned over the last couple decades is that purpose creates essential focus for leading change effectively.

The Role Of Purpose In Leading Change

First, what is change leadership? This is how we define it: 

Change leadership is the capacity to lead people in complex social systems like teams, businesses and organizations on developmental journeys from where they are now towards better and inspiring future states.

I’ve discovered a clear, shared purpose to be incredibly valuable for leading complex change -- precisely because it enables teams to lead change in both the business culture and business model at the same time.

  • Business Culture: What does a clear purpose look like feel like? It creates meaning, and it inspires people to embark on a shared journey with excellence.
  • Business Model: What does a clear purpose look like? The winning idea for a target customer is clear. Roles and capabilities are arrayed to develop, sell and deliver goods and services towards creating competitive advantage.

The Purpose Principle

To ensure that people truly debate and buy in to the purpose of an organization, I usually start the conversation with the purpose principle. 

The purpose principle states that leaders, teams, and enterprises with clear and compelling purposes will engage and lead more powerfully. 

It's a pretty intuitive point; people accept it immediately. They often have the 'aha' experience of connecting new dots. They see how specific initiatives have failed due to an unclear purpose.

They also see they are on the hook, together.

Teams often next look at their mission and vision statements and realize both just are not part of the conversation in their company. The framed statements in the conference room have dissolved into just being wallpaper.

More powerfully, they learn that a compelling and complete purpose enables them to find focus despite uncertainty and create alignment and engagement despite setback.

The Four Key Purpose Statements

With our clients we've learned it's powerful to break purpose down into four distinct statements. To lay these out, it’s time to get a little more precise.

Here's a definition: A purpose statement is a concise articulation of aspirational goals in a form that can be applied by individuals and groups for focus and alignment.

Not all purpose statements provide the same focus. There are different kinds of purpose statements for different audiences:

•      Statements that are outward facing to position within customer segments.

•      Statements that are inward facing to shape business culture and employee expectations.

•      Statements that set a foundation for business strategy.

We’ve found that four distinct statements provide a strong, level foundation upon which you can accelerate your business. A complete and compelling set of purpose statements will clarify four goals:

  1. The special ingredients you intend to bring.
  2. Whom you will serve.
  3. The inspiring outcomes you will act to create.
  4. Your aspirations to believe and behave.

The four statements are Vision, Mission, Values and Operational Purpose.  

Together, we call these four statements The Anatomy Of Purpose. 

The Anatomy Of Purpose provides a structured approach to developing a complete and compelling purpose. It lays out the goals, the four kinds of purpose statements, and the focus of each.

[To take a deeper dive, watch these four videos called The Anatomy Of Purpose. It tracks my conversations with the CEO of a global pharma company, and provides more distinctions and applications.] 

Some Cautionary Notes

Don't think of developing clear and compelling purpose statements as an exercise, or as homework. This is not a box to be checked. 

Purpose should be approached as a living conversation that is absolutely relevant. As an opportunity to swim in the deep end of the pool -- where all the inspiration is discovered. 

For leadership teams, this is so, so important. Who, exactly, going to carry the torch for others?

The common mistakes when aligning to purpose include:

  • Allowing members to opt out from publically choosing or endorsing a shared purpose as their own. 
  • Not taking the time required to create engagement, buy-in and ownership.
  • Not expecting it to take several iterations to craft and field test clear purpose statements.

Get Big Things Done

Margaret Meade, the pioneering anthropologist, said it: "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has."

Coming back to Michael Corleone's accurate read of Cuba in 1959, Fidel Castro said something similar, "I began a revolution with 82 men. If I had to do it again, I would do it with 10 or 15 and absolute faith."

Developing a complete purpose is real work. We’ve learned that most teams don’t even have the wiring to think this way. Yet when they adopt a shared, rational approach based on a logical framework, they have the binding conversations that can significantly boost their ability to align.

And when they do that, they focus. They ask better questions. They learn together. And they accelerate not only their performance as a leadership team but as a business.

We've laid all this out in the The Anatomy Of Purpose video series. Find it here.

And please let me know what you think about this post. Thank you.