I recently took my family to visit the WW1 battle memorial sites in and around the Somme where two of my great uncles were wounded and thereafter retired from their military service. One was 16 years old, the other 18.
As we visited the Great War Museum at Albert and read of the conditions under which these men fought it struck home just how important having a clear purpose is to the motivation of a group of individuals to a particular cause.
Of course 100 years ago there was all to lose as a result of defeat – the protection of family and country is as great a motivating cause as one needs to motivate action; however, the incompetence of leadership was severely exposed as millions of young men died in this war of attrition where offensive after offensive resulted in huge loss of life and insignificant loss of territory.
While the other key motivating factors of Autonomy and Mastery went out the window in a war of obedience and simplicity of use of munitions, the Purpose continued to compensate for the other motivating factors in the face of such tragic losses.
The lessons for nations from this most tragic of all wars have been examined at length, and yet the failures continue to repeat themselves in the conflicts that we have seen and continue to see today.
For organisations perhaps the biggest lesson is that around the importance of a compelling purpose, articulated relentlessly, with personal as well as organisational meaning that inspires employees to continuously push towards a common goal, in spite of hardship and adversity.
What is the purpose of your organisation? Does it relate to each individual?
Does it inspire them to act in accordance with the priorities of your organisation?
Does it drive them, despite the failures, to continue to overcome the obstacles towards its achievement?
If not, then perhaps it is time to think again!
As business leaders, if there is anything that we can do to express our gratitude to those who sacrificed so much on our behalf then perhaps it is to draw upon and implement what lessons can be learned from such a tragic loss of a generation of youth and ensure that their sacrifice was not all in vain.
Picture by Hoffman, George Spencer [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons