Review: Purpose

By David Gill, reprinted from The 313.

It is well worth going back eighteen years to revisit this classic book on leadership, purpose, and companies. Nikos Mourkogiannis is a business leadership consultant with a distinguished track record for more than forty years. Purpose represents a kind of distillation of his best insight into leadership and organizational development and success and has been a widely-used text in business schools. What Mourkogiannis means by “purpose” is a fundamental driver or aspiration of our human nature. For him, purpose, mission, vision and values are intimately connected. “When a company is driven by a purpose, the vision, mission, and values flow naturally from that purpose” (p. 54). A strong, clear, positive purpose unites and motivates members of an organization. An absent or defective purpose undermines companies, neighborhoods, nations, churches and individuals.

Mourkogiannis identifies four fundamental purposes. First is discovery. Tom Watson, IBM, Sony, Intel, and Virgin are examples of this purpose at work. Second is excellence. Warren Buffet, Berkshire Hathaway, BMW, and Apple are his examples. Third is altruism. Sam Walton (“anything to help the customer”), Wal-Mart, HP and Nordstrom are his examples. Fourth is heroism. Microsoft, Ford, and Exxon-Mobil are his examples. We could all find organizations today that are exemplary in these four categories. A core explanation is that these four are each a “fundamental driver or aspiration of our human nature.” I would add that they are each part of the “image of God” in every human being.

This is a terrific book for current and future leaders to study and ponder. Mourkogiannis is right on target to praise the insight of Collins and Porras in Built to Last about the centrality of “preserving the core” (purpose) in great, enduring companies – and also to criticize their view that the content of the purpose matters little (except that it must be more than just making money). His choice of the four great purposes is very insightful.  

Theologically, I still prefer to say that there are two (not four) fundamental purposes embedded in human beings: “creativity/innovation” and “help somebody/fix something” (rooted in Creation and Redemption). These two great theological themes track with Mourkogiannis’s discovery and altruism; his excellence and heroism themes are better viewed (theologically) as subsidiary to creating something (excellently, heroically) and helping others (excellently, heroically). A compelling, effective corporate mission, in my view, “taps into” one or both of these great themes. Challenging and enabling people to “invent” – and/or “help somebody/fix something” – energizes and brings out their best performance and most meaningful work experience.

Alongside your other workplace discipleship reading, this classic should find a place.

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