I recently started a five-part series on Ozinga’s purpose. In these very unusual times, it is more important than ever to be disciplined about living intentionally and leading with purpose.
In my first post, one thing I said was, “Leaders need to make numerous intentional choices every day to lead with purpose. I have found that this is a practice that takes daily discipline to execute; it doesn’t happen naturally. It’s a big commitment of time and money that requires a long-term view with regard to its payback.”
A friend of mine who read the post asked what some of those specific daily disciplines are. This inspired me to share these disciplines with others to help shine a light on the importance of leading with purpose. The following are seven disciplines I have found helpful to me to live intentionally.
1. Renewing the mind
The way we view the world—our priorities, what we hold most dear, our words and behaviors—all start in the mind. We have the ability to intentionally direct our thoughts or we can leave our mind to wander aimlessly without critical checks and balances. We have a variety of choices when it comes to the information we consume. If I as a leader am going to effectively lead with purpose, I need to find sources of information and surround myself with people who challenge, inspire, convict and motivate me to keep my purpose top of mind. Cultivating “the garden of your mind,” as Mr. Rogers put it, needs to be thought of as important—or arguably, more important than the training of the physical body in a gym.
For me, I have found success training my mind by starting each day with a quiet time of meditation upon God’s word and prayer. Some of my favorite tools to do this include Bible in One Year with Nicky Gumbel on the YouVersion app, a prayer app called Echo and the ACTS (Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, Supplication) acronym for the prayer itself.
During the day, I keep our purpose top of mind in a few different ways: having a printout copy of our purpose statement on my desk, opening every meeting with the opportunity for someone to share a purpose story and listening to audio books and podcasts that encourage me in this area. All of these little disciplines are tools to renew my mind on our purpose, challenging me to consider every decision at work and at home to be made through this lens in order to live into our purpose.
2. Communicate relentlessly
Many years ago, I made a commitment to run the Chicago marathon. I shared my plans with a number of people—not to boast, but to hold myself accountable to crossing the finish line. I realized by telling people I had more accountability to stay on course than if I would have kept it to myself.
There are many reasons we fail to communicate enough. We get too busy or we don’t want to come off as a hypocrite, a broken record or condescending. But it is imperative to communicate in order to effectively lead. While there will certainly be doubters and skeptics, particularly with regard to cultural and organizational change, it’s important to remember the rewards are much greater than the risks.
I’m trying to find more and more avenues to communicate our purpose. I talk about it in staff meetings, one on ones, townhalls, emails, memos, newsletters, offsites, onboarding sessions, etc. The reality is that it is necessary to repeat over and over again in order for it to sink in—for people to connect the dots to their daily lives. And the beautiful part is, the more I talk about it and write about it, the more it sinks in for me, the more it affects my confidence about it and the more strongly it becomes ingrained into my decision-making lens.
3. Identify specific behaviors that help live out that purpose
Every “why” needs some “hows:” how are my actions and behaviors reflecting my purpose, why I exist? At Ozinga, we emphasize our values of service, learning and entrepreneurship.
With regard to our value of service, we’ve identified the behavior of affirmation of others’ unique gifts, talents and positive contributions on a 5:1 ratio over criticisms. This is a high bar, but just having the bar creates a muscle we want to develop and improve upon. I know I don’t do this as well as I should, but I’m daily trying to remind myself to do it more frequently. I often think a positive thought about someone who positively impacted me, but I don’t put it to words to affirm and encourage the person. We are trying to change that.
With regard to learning, we’ve identified active listening without judgment and good questions on a 2:1 ratio over talking and statements. In our excitement to share our ideas, we have a tendency to not truly listen when others are talking, or worse, we talk over each other. This prevents learning, growth and positively impacting others by not valuing the unique contribution they bring. Asking clarifying questions often changes what I initially thought I heard the person say.
When it comes to entrepreneurship, we are challenging ourselves to run into healthy debate and conflict. I’m wired to avoid conflict, but avoiding it allows things to linger under the surface. This slows us all down from the next leap forward, keeping us from making innovations and breakthroughs in our decisions, products and services, as well as our relationships.
Focusing on these muscles at work has challenged me to think about how to better do this at home with my wife and kids. This is what we intended in highlighting families in our purpose statement—positive impacts we make with individuals at work overflow into family life at home.
4. Measure purpose impact
We manage what we measure. Like most companies, we measure the top line, bottom line, KPIs, etc. The risk with only measuring financial and operational outcomes is that everyone is left to their own devices on how to arrive there. This may work in the short term, but it also can lead to long-term problems. Another risk is that our identity, our heart and soul, lie with the outcomes. The satisfaction of financial outcomes is very fleeting. While they are crucial to fuel the business, it’s not what lasts in peoples’ lives. It’s not what motivates people from deep within.
At times, this purpose stuff may seem and feel “soft” and “intangible.” At other times, our instincts, gut feelings, emotions and anecdotal stories give us confidence that we are on the right track. I’m learning that measurement of its impact is an important part of the equation to be sure we are managing it and can have confidence that our efforts are moving the needle, driving results.
We serve coworkers, customers and the broader community. We are actively pursuing ways to measure how well we are serving these constituencies in light of what we say our purpose is. One such measurement is the Gallup Q12 employee engagement survey. Gallup’s survey questions complement our purpose. It is a measurement tool that holds us accountable to living into our purpose every day. I regularly review their survey questions as a reminder of what we want to manage.
5. Recover quickly
Whether it’s going to the gym, changing a bad habit, or any other life change, there are bound to be times when we go off the rails. Being purpose-focused is no different. The danger is that we throw in the towel when we’ve failed, become distracted or are too busy to continue to work on it. Failures will happen. The goal is to recover quickly and keep returning to the disciplines of staying on purpose.
6. Plan long term
We live in a world where people expect immediate results. When leading with purpose, it is imperative to have patience with the process. Daily contributions to this effort will pay long-term dividends, but it will take a lot of perseverance to move the needle on more of a broad basis.
The daily discipline here is to not get discouraged. Keep making small, incremental contributions today and trust these will have a compounding impact that will get you to your long-term destination. Think of it like investing in the market for retirement. Don’t let the daily swings of the market distract you from the plan.
Ozinga’s purpose is to make a positive impact on individuals, their families and communities for generations. Oftentimes, businesses run the risk of focusing on near-term results (quarterly reports, annual bonus compensation, etc.) We challenge ourselves to not only take the long view on the capital investments we make in the business, but also to look more importantly at the investments we make in people. Today’s investment to positively impact individuals has the potential to affect them and their family for generations to come and even into all of eternity, but it is a daily discipline to have that eternal perspective. It’s so easy to get caught up in the near-term results and have that be the controlling factor of our behavior.
7. Live generously
In order to be purpose-driven leaders, we must look to give of ourselves for the benefit of others. We can be generous with our thoughts toward others, our words, our time and attention, our actions, our influence, sharing our stuff, our money, etc. This is a lifestyle that takes discipline and intentionality. Most of us don’t naturally gravitate towards this.
In business, there is a tendency to think in terms of payback. What is the return on investment that we put into something? If we seek to truly live generously, we shouldn’t concern ourselves with what we get out of the investments we make in people. Instead, the attitude should be what do we get to give to bless someone else. What we find is that there is so much to gain by giving, but those gains aren’t what we expect. They are much more satisfying and enriching.
This is particularly important in the state that our world is currently in. We have a tremendous opportunity to lay down our differences and look to have a positive impact on the people in our lives by being generous.
“Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.”
2 Corinthians 9:6-8
I realize there are a lot more than seven disciplines in this list. It’s more like seven subjects with many disciplines within each. Discipline is all about short-term sacrifices to achieve long-term gains. Most of the time, these are not things I “feel” like doing, but making these little daily choices to be disciplined benefits those in our lives now as well as future generations.
At Ozinga, we are committed to learning how to do this better every day and we see incremental progress being made through four generations.
If there are any ideas you have to share in this regard, I’d love to hear what’s working for you. Thanks for learning with us!
Marty is the president of Ozinga and the oldest of the fourth generation. He holds a master’s degree in communications from Northwestern University and is actively involved with The Bright Promise Fund for Urban Christian Education.