Why Your Reason For Being Matters

Reason for being matters. Not necessarily the actual reason, but that there is one. The top leader in the organization is then the guardian of the reason for being, the mission, the just cause. It is his or her responsibility to keep explaining and protecting it.

In The Infinite Game, Simon Sinek talks about mercenaries and zealots. Mercenaries will fight for you as long as you pay them and as long as the potential benefits for them personally are bigger than the risks. They will abandon you and fight for someone else when the fighting gets tough. If you don’t have a clear cause, that is the type of people you can get.

Zealots, on the other hand, are in it for the cause. They don’t expect to reap benefits for themselves. They are willing to make sacrifices. They don’t even fight for you. They fight for your cause. Even if you die, they will keep fighting. Employees who genuinely care about the mission will stick with you even during crises and help you get through it and rebuild the company.

Just cause

Sinek talks about a just cause, a specific vision of the future that doesn’t exist today but is interesting enough for others to embrace and make sacrifices to create. You may call it a just cause, a vision, a reason for being. They are all slightly different, but ultimately all describe the same thing—a vision of a better future. Having a just cause helps you to get through the ups and downs. It can motivate you long-term, not just until you get the next promotion. It gives you a feeling of fulfillment. You may not always enjoy everything you need to do to get there. It may be tedious, menial, or tiresome. However, you still do it because when working towards the just cause, you love your job and will grit it out.

You can have your own cause, or you can join a cause of someone else. It doesn’t make a difference as long as you can identify with it. A real just cause must be for something positive, affirmative, optimistic, something we can stand for rather than against. It must be inclusive so all who want to contribute can feel like they belong. It must be service-oriented for the benefit of others. It must be resilient to survive changing political, cultural, or technological landscape. And it must be idealistic, bold, and with no clear end. In essence, it must be unachievable, an ideal world. There is no win. It requires everyone to keep playing. Even if the leader quits, others step in to continue the game.

A mission that has a clear winnable end is not a just cause. It is just a big audacious goal. Putting people on Mars is a good example. It is awe-inspiring, positive, inclusive, and for humankind’s benefit, and yet, it is not a just cause. What happens once the first astronauts step on the planet? Mission accomplished, done, finished. You need to find the next project. In that context, you may consider that the just cause may not be to put people on Mars but rather to keep learning and exploring the universe to benefit all humans. Getting on Mars is just one step toward getting there, and we know the cause will never be finished.

Reason for being

I feel that a just cause is too abstract, too preachy, and not easily applicable in every company. It is often difficult to translate to “what does it mean for me” for each individual employee. Similarly, the mission and vision statements have their limitations and unnecessarily complicate things for everyday use. A mission statement is a brief overview of an organization’s purpose and goals. It states what the organization does, what it produces, and what are its key objectives. A vision statement is then a description of its aspirations, a sort of North star that shows its direction and guides its actions.

I prefer “reason for being” as a more practical and inclusive description of what you need to create a strong culture. Yes, it is a bit of nitpicking and playing with words. And yes, it has the same characteristics as the just cause described by Sinek. It is just easier to connect to individuals. If you help the employees see the reason for being not only for the company but for themselves, they are going to give their time, effort, and knowledge to something bigger than they are, but they can still connect to it individually. They may reap some benefits from it in the form of fair compensation. In fact, they should, but the primary benefit needs to be to the receiver, the colleague, the customer, and the world.

Compare it to capital markets or careers. If you invest in a company’s shares, your primary concern should be to help the company achieve its reason for being, and any return on your investment is a byproduct. How many investors like that are out there? Wouldn’t the world be a better place if there were more of them?

If you give me career advice, the primary benefit needs to be to support my reason for being. The fact I may choose to keep working for you is a byproduct. Again, how many managers and leaders act like this and don’t prioritize their own good? Hopefully, there are some, and hopefully, you are one of them.

You need to adopt a giver’s mindset, as Adam Grant introduced in Give And Take. You need to care about others. This doesn’t mean you can’t make a profit or otherwise benefit from your giving approach. You can, and you should. To be a successful giver, you must also take care of your own needs. Otherwise, you would wither and die. You need to be fairly compensated, appreciated, and recognized for your efforts.

Money is still important

Growth, profit, and corporate social responsibility can’t be seen as reasons for being. They are just byproducts. If you try to make them the center of what you do, it leads to short-term thinking when you are willing to sacrifice others to reach your goals. Consider the implications. For you to win, someone else needs to lose. You are not in the game to keep playing but to win. That doesn’t work long-term.

Even corporate social responsibility programs are not designed to advance your reason for being but to do a bit of marketing for yourself or make your employees feel good. It is still a good thing to do, but the primary goal of it is often not to help others but to help yourself.

This doesn’t necessarily mean that money is not important. Of course it is. Without profit, you get out of business. However, when it is all about money, it simply leads to short-term thinking. It leads to seeing financial numbers as more important than people and trying to motivate employees only by money and perks. And it never works long-term. All it does is attract mercenaries, people who don’t care about the reason for being of the company but care only about the compensation. They are in it to win and move on rather than keep playing. Extrinsic motivation, like money, can make people work hard for a period of time but can never make them truly care. You can’t buy people’s will with money.

Putting it all together

And you need people’s will. To keep the business running, it is not enough to have resources like money. You also need the will of the people to keep supporting the company’s reason for being. The will of the people to work is not that tangible and easily measured. It includes motivation, morale, commitment, and desire to keep going. The leader’s role is to create an environment where people want to keep playing the business game and give their best.

When you can’t explain the reason for being of the organization in simple terms, you won’t be able to get people to buy into what you are doing. They may work on things to get the paycheck, but they won’t work towards anything larger. No inspiration, no excitement, no purpose, no loyalty.

Curiously enough, you, as a leader, have only limited control over resources. There is only a limited amount of budget you get. You can’t impact the preferences of customers, changes in politics and environment, or economic cycles. You can, however, affect the sources of the employee’s will by creating the right company culture.

By having a clear reason for being and by tying it up to the reasons of being of your employees, you create a loyal team that will get the company to the next level.


What is your take on the topic? Do you believe that work needs to be about more than just money? Do you need the mission of your company to be bigger than life? How do you live your company’s values day to day?

Photo: geralt / Pixabay.com

For more read my blog about management, leadership, communication, coaching, introversion, software development, and career The Geeky Leader or follow me on Facebook and Twitter: @GeekyLeader

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