WRITTEN BY DAN SALVA
A Big Audacious Meaning connects to what we do and what we believe. In fact, it takes all the best of those things and distills it into one powerful, statement of purpose that clarifies and amplifies the difference we will make for an individual, a community, and the world.
It is not something that we invent. It can’t be manufactured or spun. Rather, it is something we must discover. And reveal.
“There is no purpose.”
Leadership depth interviews are a key part of the process of revealing a Big Audacious Meaning. During one of these sessions, I had a member of a leadership team say to me, “This organization doesn’t have a deeper purpose. The guy who started it just wanted to make money.”
If you did a cursory investigation of the organization, this assessment would seem to hold true. The founder had not bothered to establish an inspiring ideology and indoctrinate it in the organization. In fact, from his history and all his actions, it was easy to conclude that it was just about the money.
It’s never just about the money.
Before we go any further, let me say this. The money is essential. Beyond the obvious reasons of survival of the organization.
Purpose fuels profit. And profit fuels purpose. It is a symbiotic relationship that must maintain a healthy balance. An exclusive focus on purpose and the existence of the organization could be in peril. Too much focus on profit, and we lose our reason to be – and again, the organization could be in peril. We have to make sure we don’t demonize the quest for profit. It is one of the key indicators that our Big Audacious Meaning is reaching its full potential.
Back to our story. When I had a chance to sit down with the founder of the organization, some interesting truths began to surface. It wasn’t just about the money. He believed in what they were doing. He believed they could advance the industry in a way that could have a profound impact on the multitude of lives that it touched. He had never given himself permission to let that become a driver for the organization.
The foundations of this organization’s Big Audacious Meaning had just become a little clearer.
It also made me wonder how much further along he would have been if he had given himself the permission to embrace that bigger, more inspiring, world-changing idea.
Striving vs. defensiveness
When I’ve talked to leaders like this, I’ve noticed something interesting. With those who embraced a bigger purpose, they were almost apologetic for not having done more. With those that didn’t allow themselves to embrace purpose, that same thing surfaced as defensiveness.
I have a theory that, for the apologetic ones, this arises from a belief that there is always more that can be done to promote that profound purpose and the difference they could make in the world. This is what makes them strivers. For the defensive, it may just be the guilt of leaving purpose out of the equation.
What these situations illustrate is that it’s not a matter of whether a Big Audacious Meaning exists. It’s a matter of how deep that Big Audacious Meaning is buried.
I have yet to encounter an organization that was completely devoid of this larger purpose. Some may deny its existence. Leaders may choose to ignore it. But it is there. At some point, someone will ask the right question at the right time. And something revelatory will happen. The excavation will begin.
Dan Salva is a co-founder of Will & Grail, with more than three decades of experience in brand marketing and developing and implementing go-to-market strategies. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.