Lead with Purpose: A book review by Bob Morris

Lead with Purpose: Giving Your Organization a Reason to Believe in Itself
John Baldoni
AMACOM (2012)

The multi-dimensional “why” of initiative and fulfillment for organizations as well as for individuals

I selected my review’s title because, in his latest book, John Baldoni focuses on how and why having (or not having) a sense of purpose determines whether (or not) success is (or isn’t) achieved by individuals, groups, organizations, and even entire societies. This is precisely what other authors affirm in their books, notably Dave and Wendy Ulrich in The Why of Work, Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer in The Progress Principle, Simon Sinek in Start with Why, and Dan Pink in DRiVE.

Baldoni is convinced (and I wholly agree) that the healthiest organizations are those in which there is a shared sense of purpose. It is business leaders’ privilege (yes, privilege) as well as challenge to establish and then sustain a culture in which a common purpose guides and informs all initiatives, at all levels and in all areas throughout the given enterprise. In essence, great leaders inspire others to believe in themselves, to take pride in what they do and how they do it, and to be nourished by mutual trust and respect among everyone involved.

With meticulous care, Baldoni organizes his material within seven chapters. He provides a wealth of information, insights, and advice generated during a study of more than 1,100 purposeful leaders selected from the American Management Association’s vast database. (Note: He includes the complete “2010 Leadership Survey Results” in the Appendix and also identifies 15 experts who were interviewed and whom he frequently cites throughout his narrative.) In the Introduction, Baldoni provides a framework of seven separate but interdependent core commitments that leaders in any organization must make:

1. Make purpose a central focus
2. Instill purpose in others
3. Make employees comfortable with ambiguity
4. Turn good intentions into great results
5. Make it safe to fail (as well as prevail)
6. Develop the next generation
7. Prepare yourself

He devotes a separate chapter to each, thoroughly explain HOW to achieve the given objective(s). Together, these chapters suggest a process by which organizations as well as their leaders and those who follow them can be purpose-driven to achieve sustainable success (however defined).

Readers will appreciate Baldoni’s skillful use of recurring devices that include boxed portions of survey results that are relevant to the given chapter in which they appear; also, sets of “Leadership Questions” and “Leadership Directives” that serve two important purposes: they challenge the reader to conduct a self-audit that reveals areas in which improvement is needed, and, they suggest actions that must be taken to achieve the given objective(s). Baldoni is obviously an empiricist whose recommendations are research-driven. He is also a pragmatist with an insatiable curiosity to understand what works, what doesn’t, and why. And he is an evangelist whose own purpose is to share what he has learned with as many other people as possible in his several books and countless articles for various business journals, notably HBR.

The final chapter, “Action Planner,” will be invaluable after someone has read and then (hopefully) re-read the first seven chapters and is ready to plan and execute initiatives for driving purpose throughout her or his organization. Baldoni shares eight “lessons,” most of which reiterate the aforementioned core commitments. The last and eighth “lesson” urges the reader to become a leader with purpose, one who makes a positive difference and inspires others to do so, also. If that isn’t a purpose worthy of admiration, I don’t know what is.

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