“The invisible Leader”: learning about purpose.

The Invisible Leader has been on my to-read list since a workmate published some selected quotes for reflection in an internal P2. Well, I finally read it, and I’m glad I did.

1.- Attention: Spoiler. The invisible leader is…


Purpose is the most powerful motivator because it acts from/on WHY we do things, adding meaning to WHAT we do or HOW we do it. Consequently, when purpose is present, you have a way more powerful reason to work than simply to please your lead or make money. Without purpose, you can spend eight hours a day waiting for them to end.

A purpose can be explained, but it cannot be commanded. If imposed, it becomes a burnout agent instead of a catalyzer. Well then… how can we animate it?

2.- Reification of purpose (Map it into words and keep it in mind.)

We can capture purpose and make it more real by writing/posting it. Stating a purpose, writing it down, and making it public is a critical part of the agreement/engagement, and a prerequisite to its fulfillment. Because, remember: purpose integrity comes from fulfillment: you are what you do, not what you say you’ll do 🙂

I am lucky to have inspiring company purposes that we can directly use as our own. Or we can also adapt/project/cascade them to our team. Mercurio suggests some ideas for writing an effective purpose statement:

  • Use wording to elicit emotions. E.g. starting by “I or We are here to…”
  • Understand the power of the words you use. The action verb in the purpose is your reason for existing as a team/company.
  • Remember that the purpose reason must be to have, not just an outcome, but an impact on people.

People is, precisely, the power word underlying purpose.

3.- Empathy and Joy of Difference to foster purpose

Purpose is long-termed, a never-ending striving/inspiration to create an impact that goes beyond the next hurdle: it’s for the good of people (or even of humankind). This means purposes are built from empathy. That makes sense, because we are hardwired for empathy and motivated to create responses to human problems. So here is the first step to animate your sense of purpose: value, develop and enjoy empathy. This is something we can energize in our teams.

Mercurio also suggests some ideas to develop empathy, namely 1) surround yourself with empathizers, 2) become curious, 3) challenge your biases and assumptions, and 4) develop imagination. I choose to recap these with “Be thirsty for the cognoscitive joy the difference brings”: Empathy, curiosity, imagination, and flexibility will come.

Free different types of tomatoes

4.- How to animate a culture of purpose?

The book talks about significance, the path of re-building the narrative, the importance of emphasizing and rewarding prosocial values, how encouraging the imagining of the impact helps…and more. I’m not going to say these are unimportant, but I find these actions to be a bit ”meta,” in that they require a programmatic approach. Is there something simpler, a micro-action, that we can implement to foster a culture of purpose?

Indeed: we can start by doing a purpose audit for each project we launch as a team: ask Why before offering an answer to how/what we are doing. And this is my learning 🙂

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