Oswald Letter

Give your people a cause they can believe in

Detail of Betsy Ross Flag With Thirteen Stars and Stripesby Dan Oswald

The United States won its freedom in the Revolutionary War when a ragtag army made up of state militias from the colonies defeated the mighty British Empire. How could this have happened?

At the time, Great Britain was the world’s super power, with the strongest military and a navy that was recognized as the best in the world. It had consistently won conflict after conflict over well-established and powerful foes, proving its military dominance on the world’s stage. Its soldiers were well-trained and well-equipped.

On the other hand, the Americans didn’t even have an army when the first shots were fired in 1775. The initial battles were fought by local militias made up of “soldiers” with little military experience or training. The Americans had little money to purchase supplies for the troops, and the colonies really didn’t work very well together.

So, again, how could the untrained, underfunded American soldiers defeat the world’s greatest military?

The Americans had a cause. They were fighting for their freedom. This common cause banded those 13 individual colonies into a single fighting force willing to take on what seemed to be insurmountable odds. The British soldiers had a job to do, but the Americans had a purpose.

There’s a lesson for every leader in the Revolutionary War and America’s victory over the British. It’s the importance of having a cause that your people believe in and the perils of not having one. That cause turns a job into something much greater. It helps create a passion in the people who are dedicated to it. It gives people a purpose that is greater than their individual contributions.

And passion isn’t something you can make up. The Americans couldn’t have fought with the tenacity they did without passion, but it wasn’t motivational speeches made by powerful generals that created it. It was that shared cause that prompted the colonists to put their lives on the line to fight for something they believed in.

Now most of us don’t put ourselves in harm’s way each day when we do our job. But that doesn’t make a common cause any less important to your team’s success than it was to the colonists in the Revolutionary War. People look to be a part of something bigger than themselves. They want to be a part of something that truly makes a difference.

It’s your job as the leader to focus your team on that cause. What are you trying to achieve? What mission do you have that provides true purpose to the job each person on the team does each day?

Remember, those British soldiers had a job to do. They were collectively the best at that job in the world. Yet they were defeated by an opponent that wasn’t nearly as well-trained or well-funded but was one that had a cause it believed in and rallied around.

So maybe you work for a big company that’s well-funded and has all the necessary resources at its disposal. You’re effectively a general in the British military. How can you communicate true purpose to your people so you don’t get defeated by that upstart company that’s annoyingly nipping at your heels? What is it you can accomplish with all of those resources at your disposal that will get everyone excited and committed? If you don’t know the answer, you need to figure it out.

Or maybe you’re a leader in the upstart. You’re small, you’re under-funded, and you have only just begun to get recognized within the industry. And often that underdog mentality of fighting against the big behemoths in your industry is enough to rally the troops, giving them a shared mission of taking on the titans. But that will last only so long. What is the true mission of your business? How are you different? What are you doing that will make an impact in the world? If you don’t know the answer, you need to figure it out.

In the end, a shared vision and mission for any organization are critical to its success. People need something bigger than themselves to be a part of and believe in. It gives their work purpose and meaning—and we all want purpose and meaning. Don’t let the work your team does be just a job. Make it more than that. Give your people a cause they can believe in, and watch them do amazing things.

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