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The Common Purpose and Core Values

Any organization is a triad consisting of leaders and followers joined in a common purpose. The purpose is the atomic glue that binds us. It gives meaning to our activities.

Followers and leaders both orbit around the purpose; followers do not orbit around the leader.

Often the purpose exists and we come together around it. Sometimes the leader envisions it and draws us to it. At other times we formulate or redefine the purpose together. If the purpose is not clear and motivating, leaders and followers can only pursue their perceived self-interest, not their common interest. The process of clarifying purpose can mobilize a group, heal painful rifts, and help the group steer through treacherous passages. It is a critical act of strong leadership and courageous followership.

Equally fundamental are the group’s shared values. Clarifying core values validates the purpose and determines how we will and how we won’t pursue it. If the purpose is pursued in the context of decent human values, it serves as a guiding light in navigating our relationship with a leader. If the purpose intrinsically violates or is pursued in a way that violates decent human values, however, it is not an ethically valid guide. For example, “making a profit for shareholders” is a purpose we can use to guide our actions. “Making a profit regardless of the impact on the community or environment,” nullifies its validity in determining appropriate action.

A common purpose pursued with decent values is the heart of the healthy leader-follower relationship.