People with Purpose: A book review by Bob Morris

People with Purpose: How Great Leaders Use Purpose to Build Thriving Organizations
Kevin Murray
KoganPage Limited (2017)

Two Qs worth asking: “What is the value of purpose, and what, really is the purpose of values?”

Kevin Murray wrote this book in response to these two questions, sharing his thoughts and feelings about how leaders can inspire self-motivation in others with a shared vision, values, and objectives. All organizations need effective leaders at all levels and in all areas so Murray does not limit his attention to residents of the C-suite.

However, he did interview several dozen CEOs “of a wide ranging range of organizations, asking them about how purpose and values have helped them in their leadership” so he also shares their thoughts and feelings in this book.

“These are leaders who have used powerfully articulated purpose statements to bring companies back from the brink of collapse to rapidly grow businesses into global giants, or to enable their organizations to thrive over long periods of time.”

Recent research by the Gallup Organization indicates that worldwide, about 17% of employees are actively and positively engaged. In the US, on average, that percentage is less than 30%; the others are either passively engaged (“mailing it in”) or actively involved in undermining the success of the given enterprise.

Murray agrees with Simon Sinek (among others) that people need a sense of purpose, not only at work but in all other areas of their lives. According to Sinek, “Very few people or companies can clearly articulate WHY they do WHAT they do. By WHY I mean your purpose, cause or belief – WHY does your company exist? WHY do you get out of bed every morning? And WHY should anyone care?” He goes on to suggest, “We are drawn to leaders and organizations that are good at communicating what they believe. Their ability to make us feel like we belong, to make us feel special, safe and not alone is part of what gives them the ability to inspire us.”

Obviously, there have been immensely effective leaders throughout history (e.g. Adolph Hitler and Josef Stalin) whose primary purposes were essentially evil. Many (if not most) of the people who supported them were unaware of those purposes – until it was too late – or paralyzed by fear of what would happen if they opposed them.

Murray offers what he characterizes as “The Purpose Framework” within which – throughout human history – great leaders have developed relationships with and among people who embrace mutual respect and trust. It has ten components that serve as its foundation:

1. Purpose (“the beating heart of the organization”)
2. A breathtaking long-term vision (“True North”)
3. A short-term (three-year) vision
4. Strategic goals
5. Objectives and key results
6. Core values that guide and inform actions
7. Operating principles
8. Behaviours
9. Mission
10. Brand essence (“the public promise to stakeholders’)

Kevin Murray is a visionary, yes, but also a relentless empiricist and, more to the point, a world-class pragmatist. He wholly supports the importance of WHY. He thoroughly understands the WHAT. That said, the greatest value of the material he provides is that it focuses on HOW “great leaders use purpose to build thriving organizations.”

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