The Purpose Effect: A book review by Bob Morris

Purpose EffectThe Purpose Effect: Building Meaning in Yourself, Your Role and Your Organization
Dan Pontefract
Elevate Publishing (May 2016)

Faber est suae quisque fortunae

Those who have read Dan Pontefract’s previous book, Flat Army: Creating a Connected and Engaged Organization, already know how committed he is to helping as many leaders as he can in as many organizations as possible to establish or strengthen a workplace culture within which personal growth and professional development are most likely to thrive.

All organizations are purpose-driven, for better or worse.  For some, the primary (if not singular) purpose is profitability. For others, the primary purpose is values-driven social responsibility. In his latest book, Pontefract argues that these purposes are not mutually exclusive. On the contrary, as enlightened leaders have known for years, they are – in fact – interdependent. Hence the subtitle title of Pontefract’s new book.

As he explains, “First, you want to take aim at redefining the true purpose of an organization, redefining the meaning of work. The organization must be reset, and through the Good DEEDS model, you will learn how to make this happen. Second, you want to help develop sustainable and flourishing roles for those you are leading in the organization that employs you by redefining the definition of working. To accomplish this feat, The Purpose Path is a model that outlines the differences between a job, career, and purpose mindset.”

It is no coincidence that most of the companies annually ranked among the most highly admired and best to work for are also annually ranked among those that are most profitable and have the greatest cap value in their competitive marketplace. When Southwest Airlines’ then chairman and CEO, Herb Kelleher, was asked to explain its extraordinary success, he replied, “We take great care of our people, they take great care of our customers, and our customers then take great care of our shareholders.”

As for the Good DEEDS model, it provides both a mindset and a methodology that help to achieve two separate but interdependent objectives: to instill a sense of purpose that will drive personal growth and professional development, and thereby, to achieve and then sustain organizational health. Employment is therefore not defined in terms of having a “job”; rather, in terms of believing in the value of individual and collaborative efforts that John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods, characterizes as “conscious capitalism” in his eponymous book.

There are valuable lessons to be learned from the exemplar organizations that Pontefract examines. Each of them illustrates the power of a “three-way relationship between an individual’s sense of purpose in life, the organization’s purpose, and a person’s purpose in their role at work.” For all that has been written about “alignment,” precious little has been said about this multi-dimensional relationship.

I selected the dictum Faber est suae quisque fortunae for the title of this review. Why? It was quoted by Sallust in his “Speech to Caesar on the State” and means “Every man is the architect of his own fortune.” That is certainly relevant to an individual’s selection of purpose but as Pontefact explains so well, that purpose (whatever it may be) must be in harmony with purpose at work and with the given organization’s purpose. As I re-read The Purpose Effect before composing this brief commentary, it again occurred to me that almost everyone has a purpose-driven life, for better or worse. Over the years, there have been situations when personal purpose and purpose at work were in proper alignment with an organization’s purpose.  The Gestapo’s administration of several concentration camps during World War Two immediately comes to mind.

Of course, Pontefract is well-aware of evil purpose in human experience. Throughout his lively and eloquent narrative, he reaffirms the necessity of doing what is right and doing it right so that human lives are nourished and enriched. The purpose he celebrates is of the same nature as the purpose discussed by Robert Greenleaf in Servant Leadership, by Randy Pausch in The Last Lecture, by Rick Warren in The Purpose Driven Life, and by Clay Christensen in How Will You Measure Your Life?

Some people who read this book will receive the assistance they need to adopt a worthy purpose in life and at work. Others will receive the assistance they need to strengthen their resolve when serving a worthy purpose under attack. Still others in leadership positions will receive the assistance they need to establish or strengthen a workplace culture within which personal growth and professional development (including their own) will thrive.

For many of them, The Purpose Effect will prove to be the most valuable book they have ever read. That in the proverbial nutshell is Dan Pontefract’s purpose in life.

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