Have you heard of Bill Walsh?

Bill Walsh is the former head coach of the San Francisco 49ers. He was the driving force behind creating the 49ers dynasty. Of course, he credits a lot of his coaches and his players and the owner and so on, but really when Bill Walsh came in he made some fundamental shifts in how the organization was led and managed. 

Walsh wrote a book called The Score Takes Care of Itself. It’s basically the story of how he got to be the head coach of the 49ers and then what he did there. He talks a lot about having certain attitudes and beliefs. Methods, processes, and skills are important–how you play great football–but you have to be teaching the attitudes and beliefs behind the work if you want excellent performance. That’s purpose.

Bill Walsh didn’t necessarily come in saying “I’m going to win a super bowl!” Certainly, his career was guided towards winning the greatest championship that you can win in football, but he didn’t say “We’re going to win a super bowl by ‘this’ time.” He said “We’re going to become the kind of team that could win a super bowl.” If they focused on that, then the score would take care of itself. They would inevitably win a Super Bowl. 

He even surprised himself when they won the Super Bowl in just his third season as head coach. They were practically the worst team in the NFL in 1978 when he got involved and they went on to win the super bowl in three years. Then they won 2 more championships under Walsh and won another 2 less than a decade after he retired. They became the San Francisco 49ers dynasty. 

Why purpose? 

We want to have meaning in our lives. You’re ambitious and you want to make something of yourself. You want this business you’re operating to perform at the highest level. I just don’t see another way to do that without clearly understanding and embracing your purpose. And I don’t see how you can do that without leading your people to do the same exact thing. 

If you don’t have a purpose you’re simply floating. Without it, you’re going to long for a purpose. If you’re not doing the work to really clarify your purpose, then that feeling is not going away. The friction and dissonance that it creates is going to get in the way of top performance. You’re going to be less confident. You’re going to trust yourself less and be less assertive. You won’t tend to take the initiative. These are all things that we know are critical for top performance in a role or in an organization.

Helping someone understand their purpose, be able to name it and embrace it, means that you are empowering them. Empowerment may be another buzzword, but if you want empowered people you need to help them possess their purpose in a very tangible way. They need to know how it relates to the bigger picture. They also need to see how they can make a difference where they’re doing their work. 

When done properly, you have a crystal clear and compelling purpose for your organization. And each role inside of your organization has the same focused, clear purpose that supports the purpose of the organization.

Purpose drives everything

If you’re going to do anything worth doing, and if you’re looking to do excellent work, you need purpose. You can think of it as the answer to “why are we doing what we are doing here?” 

We hear the term “mission” thrown around a lot. It’s a similar, very popular, almost cliché term right now. When it comes to developing an organization and the individuals inside of it, I like to think about the idea of purpose. It’s a key component in empowering an organization and any individual within to do excellent work. 

There’s a definition of empowerment that I’m borrowing from Monty Moran, the now retired co-CEO of Chipotle. He released a book a few years back called Love is Free. Guac Is Extra. It basically outlines his leadership approach and some of the things he did when he was at Chipotle and how he helped them achieve remarkable results. He talks about empowerment. Being empowered means: 

  • Feeling confident in your ability, 
  • Encouraged by your circumstances, 
  • So that you feel motivated 
  • And at liberty to fully devote your talents to a purpose

There’s that word again. 

How do you fully devote yourself to something if you’re not fully aware of what that thing is? 

Any organization that’s looking to expand to its greatest and fullest potential needs to have a crystal clear idea of what its purpose is. Then the individuals inside of that organization need to understand that, too. They need to know what the purpose is for their role inside of the organization. 

Purpose is a story that elevates: 

  • Why are we doing what we’re doing? 
  • Why is the thing that we’re doing worth doing? 
  • Why would anyone want to devote themselves to what we’re doing? 

It requires leadership. Let’s say you start this business. You grow this business. You’re doing good work. Your team isn’t necessarily entirely disconnected from that, but the real core purpose, the kind of thing that people can be motivated by can become fuzzy. Or it can really become about the blocking and the tackling, the technical piece of the work that you do. And the meaningful piece of the work–the reason that you get up in the morning–can be forgotten.