Leaders need to deal with uncertainty. To make that, they aim to a desired future chosen among all the possibilities. A destiny strongly dependent on what the organization’s purpose is. Vision, the desired future, and purpose, the why, are present in every organization. But unless actions follow the words, it’s not a real purpose but a statement written on a wall. And problems arise.
Purpose as a disguise
At times, purpose is not side with the company’s reality, becoming a disguise of what the organization is really into.
Enron, the American energy company founded in 1985 and defunct in 2001, has these four words written on their Wall Street headquarters’ entrance wall: Communication, respect, integrity, and excellence.
These were the four core values for the company. At least, they said so. But, the reality was that these values meant nothing. The company’s real purpose was far away from what these words represented. The long-term objectives and the reality of the business should be aligned with the company’s purpose. Otherwise, it will be only a mask, and masks, will eventually fall.
ESG (environmental, social and governance) policies are trendy now. Every big and medium company should have something related to ESG policies to be considered by the markets, customers, and stakeholders. But, many times, these policies have not an actual commitment behind: specific actions to back up the words.
Actions shape what the perceived purpose is, despite words. And this is true for customers, stakeholders, and employees.
Leader’s commitment with the purpose is essential. The better way to show what a company stands for is its leader behavior: it shapes what is right and wrong there.
Sticking to the real purpose is hard because of the short term. All the companies have shareholders asking for their benefits, here and now. And leaders are also responsible for making live these two perspectives together: generating benefits today while developing the desired future.
At times, they could be tempted to risk that desired future, trading it for the position today.
How can leaders balance the short and long term without risking the trust of shareholders, stakeholders, customers, and employees? With transparency, honesty, and integrity.
Every action has its consequences. Pretending the opposite always comes to an erosion of trust. These days, more than ever, leaders need to explain their actions in an honest and transparent way.
Maybe the desired future can change depending on the context, but the purpose and the values should remain as the compass to guide actions.