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A few years ago I watched the 2008 movie Defiance about Tuvia, Zus, and Asael Bielski: three brothers who successfully led a group of Jewish survivors through the Belorussian forest during the Nazi occupation. The movie inspired me to write Leadership and Defiance, an article about seven basic principles of leadership that the movie clearly illustrated.

In summary, the leadership principles are:

  1. Nothing ever goes exactly according to plan.
  2. How well you plan matters less than how well you react to changes to the plan.
  3. A clear vision trumps a fully formulated plan.
  4. Rely on your team.
  5. Don’t be afraid to exert authority.
  6. Don’t expect miracles; make your own.
  7. A good education is not a prerequisite for being a good leader.

A while after the article appeared in Training and Development magazine, I finally read Good to Great, Jim Collins’ excellent book on leadership. In his last chapter, he talks about what makes great companies endure.   He claims that great companies like Disney endure because they preserve their core values and purpose while adjusting their specific goals and strategies. For example, Disney over the decades changed its focus from cartoons to movies to theme parks but never lost site of its core purposes of creative imagination and bringing happiness to millions.

This struck me as incredibly similar to the second and third points in my article. The movie showed how the group of survivors went through Bruce Tuckman’s Four Stages of Group Development. At one point, Tuvia, the brother who became the leader, declared his vision for the group:

“Our revenge is to live. We may be hunted like animals but we will not become animals. We have all chosen this: to live here free as humans for as long as we can.”

Now those are words about which you can get excited! From then on, when group members disagreed, made new plans, or lost faith, they stayed the course by turning to their vision statement. This statement did more than just declare their vision; it clarified their reason for being and became the yardstick against which they measured the validity of all new plans.

I prefer the idea of calling the vision statement the “core purpose” because I think it helps make the idea more real for users. Too many times, we see vision statements that are full of “corporate-ese,” talking about “high yielding synergies that optimize meta-services” and other words that nobody really understands.

By focusing on the organization’s reason for being it makes it easier for everyone to find their own reason for why they are at that job. If people understand how their work contributes to some greater good, it becomes easier to find the internal motivation to excel. If an organization can get everybody wanting to excel (and not just wanting to get a paycheck), then the organization is more likely to succeed and people are likely to be happier in their positions.

That leads us to….

This month’s questions:

What is it that makes you want to excel at work? What are the core principles, aspects, or values of your job or organization that excite you enough to want to come to work each day and give it your all?

Please share your ideas below so we can learn from each other.

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