As much as we value individualism, it seems to be that there is a strong push to ensuring that we each have at least some thread in common with others—whether we’re considering our workplace, community association, family, friends, or even in the context of the whole of humanity.
When we consider the leadership-followership dynamic and participation in an organization, establishing the reality of a common purpose (a topic I’ve written on several times) is one of the foundation stones for an effective relationship within which each person makes his or her particular contributions, in pursuit of a shared aim.
But stopping at the mere articulation of something we can all agree on isn’t going to give us the ideal context for excellent followership and our best contributions.
Those of us who clearly remember the early 90’s no doubt will recall the pop song “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” by band Deep Blue Something.
In the midst of a crumbling relationship, the singer makes a grasp for something (not necessarily ‘deep blue’) that will bring him and his girl together.
And I said, “What about Breakfast at Tiffany’s?”
She said, “I think I remember the film
And as I recall, I think we both kinda liked it”
And I said, “Well, that’s the one thing we’ve got”
His appeal to the 1961 film starring Audrey Hepburn as the sole basis for a connection may be a bit weak, but did lend itself to a catchy tune.
How often, in searching for something, anything that might bind us together, do we settle for a purpose or a goal that is ultimately fairly shallow or ambiguous. For example, when our association’s reason for existing is simply “to help people” we can all easily enough agree on that virtue, but it does little to bring us into any level of intertwined collaboration.
Robert Greenleaf, as usual (see my other posts on his work), raises the bar beyond such a flimsy connection.
“Let me suggest a definition for our purposes: ‘An institution is a gathering of persons who have accepted a common purpose, and  a common discipline to guide the pursuit of that purpose, to the end that  each involved person reaches higher fulfillment as a person, through  serving and being served by the common venture, than would be achieved alone  or in a less committed relationship.’” (p.250; brackets mine, referenced below; emphasis original)
As noted elsewhere, Greenleaf presents several other significant elements that accompany a sense of commonality—note the word ‘AND’ that continues his thought beyond the mere idea of having a shared purpose. He posits that more substance is needed for the relationship, namely, (1) an agreed approach or method to pursue the shared purpose; (2) a result of personal development for all involved; (3) a dynamic of both serving & being served by the group endeavor; (4) the necessity of significant commitment to see these optimal outcomes achieved.
I doubt that Deep Blue Something is getting all of that from shared enjoyment of a classic film.
So how about us, in our organizations, leadership, and followership? Have we been settling for a vague notion of common purpose as the sole thread that describes our association? To be honest, I’m asking that question of myself even now, in regards to my own organizational affiliation.
Or, are we pushing for, pursuing, expecting, and contributing to a dynamic that has these additional substantive strands of methodology, personal growth, two-way influence, and commitment?
Ancient wisdom says, “a threefold cord is not quickly broken” (Ecclesiastes 4:12). So why settle for superficial purpose agreement as our primary attachment to one another when there is more available, a stronger and broader foundation of 3 or 4 elements which will lead not just to greater organizational effectiveness, but also to a more positive personal experience?
Deep Blue Something sings,
You say the world has come between us
Our lives have come between us
Still I know you just don’t care
I’m not sure any of those issues are solved by shared fandom of a cultural icon, but rather they would be fairly comprehensively addressed if Greenleaf’s other elements were present. There would be little room for supposing a lack of care, and little room for the world or the thrust of our individual lives to be separating factors, if there was this layered connection that defined the breadth and depth of our common organizational purpose.
Not just a vague aim. But also a way of working together. Mutual concern and influence. Commitment.
Let’s not settle for “the one thing we’ve got” if there is the opportunity to make our cord of connection multi-stranded.
For encouragement and guidance in understanding and applying yourself to following and leading with excellence and helping others to do the same, see:
Embracing Followership: How to Thrive in a Leader-Centric Culture (by Allen Hamlin Jr; Feb 2016), and A Discussion Guide for Teams & Small Groups (Dec 2017) —