” Hold your fire
Keep it burning bright
Hold the flame ’til the dream ignites
A spirit with a vision is a dream
With a mission ”
– Neil Peart
In my previous blog post, I talked about how Dan Ariely used a series of experiments to demonstrate that meaning and purpose are directly correlated and that this concept can be applied in the workplace. I also teased that I would talk about how a Canadian power trio can teach us about the importance of purpose.
So where does the Canadian version of the holy triumvirate fit into all of this? About the same time I was conducting my field research over pints of beer and plates of wings (nice to know some doctors still appreciate the finer things), the members of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame finally got it right by inducting the Canadian band Rush into their hallowed halls. I am in no way objective on this subject, but for some reason, a band that had been together for 40+ years, sold more than 50 million records, and influenced probably half the musicians who ever decided to pick up an instrument failed to meet the “criteria” for inclusion. I get that critics have their biases, but when ABBA is sporting the member’s jacket and Rush isn’t, something is wrong.
Anyhow, after years of being on the verge of an anarchic mutiny, the band’s fans finally were vindicated toward the end of last year when Rush’s induction was announced. Since it was somewhat newsworthy that another wrong in the world was finally being righted, it received modest attention in the press. What really stood out to me among all of the celebratory press releases and congratulatory comments in the media was the reaction of the band. While their response was grateful and appreciative, they spoke more about the importance of this milestone to their fans than to themselves.
At first, this seemed a bit odd. Why wouldn’t the band mention how important this honor was to them! It then occurred to me that there were some great insights here about purpose and choosing who you allow to ascribe meaning to your work. With this simple statement, Rush reminded the world that the purpose and vision for their art has always been to make music that challenges, inspires, and pushes them to grow as musicians and as a band. The fact that the resulting output happened to appeal to legions of fans is validating and certainly a motivating factor to keep pushing forward after more than 20 albums, but for them that was the outcome and not the objective.
What was never important was the acknowledgement or validation of the “critics,” that vague body of experts and arbiters of taste. Had they let this group define the value of their work, they probably would have called it quits in 1975 after their third album flopped and every year thereafter when they would release a new album that would become that year’s punching bag for the critics. Their purpose was never to make music that appealed to critics, and they did not allow the meaning or the value of their work to be defined by this group. That honor was reserved for them and their fans.
Back in 1978, Geddy Lee, the band’s bassist, vocalist, and keyboardist, shared the following with a journalist:
The only justification I need for what I’m doing with Rush is that we finish an album and we love it. Then we take it to the fans, and they respond to it. If what we were doing wasn’t right, we wouldn’t be where we are.
Root’s own research tells us that 40% of employees don’t understand their company’s vision and purpose. While we didn’t ask, my guess is that at least double that number don’t understand their individual purpose and vision. This is incredibly sad. If you don’t know what your company stands for, and you aren’t clear on what you stand for, how can you derive the pride of purpose that comes from aligning your purpose with that of your company?
Purpose and meaning are two powerful and motivating forces. As a leader, it is important never to underestimate how important these things are for your people. They are tools in your leadership tool box that should be well worn from use. As an individual, it is important to assess your own purpose from time to time, and be sure that the people you are allowing to ascribe meaning to your work are the ones that ultimately matter.