A new book by one of the nation’s leading worksite health promotion organizations describes a much needed new direction for worksite wellness. The book is entitled, Leading for Purpose: How to Help Your People and Your Organization Benefit from the Pursuit of Purpose. It follows other influential works by the Vermont-based Human Resources Institute (HRI), including Wellness Leadership, Culture Change Planner and Bringing Wellness Home, among other landmark contributions.
Leading for Purpose takes an unusual focus in a work devoted to the nature and the importance of finding sufficient, or in this case, ample and empowering meaning and purpose. The topic is usually addressed in a personal way for the seeker, as in such classics as Man’s Search for Meaning* and Existential Psychotherapy by psychiatrists Viktor Frankl and Irving Yalom, respectively.
This one is different, but complementary. It is directed to leaders in companies and agencies of all kinds. It is a guidebook that shows how employers and others with responsibilities for the well being of associates can promote the pursuit of purpose. This is a two-part approach: the recommended principles are for creating purpose for the organization as well as for the people who comprise the organization.
Leading for Purpose is loaded with what nearly amounts to a purpose generating blueprint, though many and varied designs are possible consistent with the guidelines of the seven topical chapters. The book includes appendices for two vital assessments prior to and after the foundations for purpose are set: Assessing 1) the support for purpose and 2) the social climate for a purposeful transformation.
How can leadership support purpose? To what extent do those in varied organizations have common purposes and, more important, how might leaders facilitate supportive cultures that go a long way in envisioning and achieving purposes? These and related questions are addressed in the initial sections and followed by chapters that make a case for management’s active role in supporting purpose.
While it is easy to see why individuals would pursue purpose, which of course everyone does, well or poorly, the idea of organizational leaders doing so in harmony with supporting added meaning is most unusual if not unprecedented. An excerpt from the book addresses this delicate balance, or rather why it's worth attempting:
We believe that a life as a self-defined quest leads to an unnecessarily diminished existence. Most purposes have a social context; the higher, worthiest purposes that build trust, harmony, love and support cannot be achieved without cooperation. Self-improvement is always good but it should never be the only creed. We cannot survive without purposes beyond narrow self-interest; we cannot prosper without purposes that broaden social, financial and psychological returns for all.
There is much value in fostering a strong sense of community, a shared vision and a positive outlook within groups and organizations. The social climate makes individual and collective change possible. We have reasons to believe that future research will find that positive social climates are vital ingredients for the pursuit of happiness, one of the highest of all purposes.
It seems likely than anyone in a leadership position in the wide range of company health promotion programs would not benefit from a review and adaptation of the studies, references, tools, design questions, indicators and other aides for purpose available in Leading for Purpose.
A seminal work highly recommended.