“The historic period in which we live is a period of awakening to a commitment of higher values, a reawakening of individual purpose, and a reawakening of the longing to fulfill that purpose in life.” — Robert Fritz, The Path of Least Resistance

Joel and Denise each led fund raising campaigns for their respective service club and community agency. Under another member’s leadership, Joel’s club had raised a record amount in their last effort. Joel wasn’t sure they could come close to that level again. But organization was one of his real strengths. Believing in “planning your work and working your plan,” Joel set targets and efficiently established roles and responsibilities for each volunteer in his fund raising group. He gave crisp reports at each meeting filled with words like “outcome measurement” and “goal realization.” He pushed everyone hard to meet his or her commitments. He developed recognition programs with rewards and incentives for those donating money and those collecting it. He organized rallies such as “Making a Difference days.” When the fund raising campaign was over, they fell just short of their target.

Denise knew that organization was important. She recruited someone with those skills to help her manage the fund raising campaign. She concentrated on connecting the donors and volunteers to the difference they were making in the lives of so many people in their community. Drawing from her public speaking training, Denise loved to tell stories about how the money they raised helped to support Lucy, who was blind, continue her education and find a job. Or she’d talk about how Ralph and his family used a counseling center to find new hope and direction after he lost his job from years of painful back problems. At many meetings, she invited the people they were helping to come in and tell their stories. Susan came into one meeting and quietly told of how drugs and alcohol led to horrible neglect and abuse of her three year son. With the help of a treatment center funded by Denise’s agency, Susan was now clean, sober, and graduating shortly from a nursing school. There wasn’t a dry eye in the room.

Throughout the fund raising campaign, Denise constantly reminded the group of their vision to build a “caring community” and improving quality of life for all. She kept referring back to their four “touchstone values” of CARE (Collaboration, Alliances, Respect, and Empathy). Donors, businesses, government agencies, and volunteers were moved and energized. They were making a difference. The fund raising campaign exceeded its target.

Whether in our personal or business lives, it’s easy to become overly focused on tasks and results. Within many organizations, progress and success are gauged by tangible measures like volume, activity levels, revenues, or profits. Intangibles such as energy and focus are recognized as important, yet they often fade into the background. In Pathfinders, Gail Sheehy writes, “My research offers impressive evidence that we feel better when we attempt to make our world better — to have purpose beyond one’s self lends to existence a meaning and direction — the most important characteristic of well-being.”

Like a person who walks briskly into a room and then forgets why, groups and organizations can lose sight of their purpose. So they run faster to make up for their lack of focus. By failing to take occasional detours from the daily grind of the long journey to refocus, reenergize, and rejuvenate, everyone becomes worn down and less effective. Leaders actively pay attention to the context and culture of their families, groups, or organizations. They ensure that Vision, Values, and Purpose are alive and at the center of focus.

Within an organization, this attention to context and culture might involve keeping everyone in touch with, and connected to, whomever the organization serves. It could mean keeping the long-term vision front and center, especially when problems and obstacles look insurmountable. It might involve clarifying core values and using them as a fixed framework to guide and reinforce everyone’s behavior. It could also mean aligning an individual’s personal aspirations and goals with those of the group or organization. It might involve providing the training or information to move the team’s effort forward. It could mean understanding an individual’s needs and serving them so they can serve customers or partners.

Strong leaders shape their own Focus and Context (and that of their families, friends, and colleagues) through Vision, Values, and Purpose. They help themselves and others overcome problems and get out of “reality ruts” by focusing on the possibilities. Strong leaders connect and energize people. They work tirelessly to ensure that no one loses sight of what it’s all about.