Effective Leaders Communicate Meaningful Purpose

By Roberta Attanasio, Forever Leaders Editor

It is well known that communication is one of the top crucial skills of leadership. By mastering this skill, leaders can persuasively engage with people within and outside their organization to ultimately build trust, the critical component of successful leadership. It is also well known that effective leaders use skilled communication to give voice to a compelling mission and a powerful set of values. By doing so, leaders create a meaningful picture of the future. Such a picture is pivotal to direct behavior that leads to the desired outcome. Now, a new article emphasizes the validity of these principles.


Image credit: Brianna Privett, CC BY 2.0

According to the article, the language of leaders has a profound effect on the performance of their employees—how a company presents its vision and values is deeply entwined with its overall success. While in many cases companies use abstract and vague language for their mission statements, the best-performing organizations frequently operate under a vivid statement.

Examples of vague statements are those used by many banks: “We will be the preferred provider of targeted financial services. We will strengthen these relationships and provide the right solutions.”

On the other hand, an example of strong mission statement is the one developed by Toys ‘R Us: “Our vision is to put joy in kids’ hearts and a smile on parents’ faces.” Jonathan Clark, one of the two authors of the article, said in a press release: “Everyone can imagine a kid, everyone knows what joy feels like and everyone can imagine a parent with their child smiling, That’s what makes something vivid: when you have concrete objects and behaviors that people can actually imagine in their minds.”

In their article, the authors suggests that purpose statements infused with the “right” kind of language can improve cooperation and coordination, and describe the “right” kind of language as consisting of two combined key elements. The first element is concrete, image-based language centered on the organization’s long-term goals. The second element is focused conceptual language centered on the values of the organization. The authors point out that carefully crafted messages that include these two elements can have a powerful impact not simply by effectively communicating a meaningful purpose, but by doing so in a way that creates a shared sense of that purpose across individuals in the organization.

“A leader provides focus for people and points them toward a specific set of values that guide action within the organization,” said Clark in the press release. He added: “In that sense, the language that leaders use is absolutely critical.”

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  1. This article makes me reflect on program implementation strategy that I learned in Community Psychology. A mission statement should be clear and demonstrate your goals and how you are going to go about achieving them. Not only should it be understood by customers or users of a program, but also by all of the people who organize the program. In the Community Psychology course we learned the importance of evaluating programs by organizing their strategy in a chart. First is the goals, then the strategy, then the observable outcomes, and last the long term impact. If your goals do not match the observable outcomes, then the program needs to be tweaked. There are numerous reasons why a program is ineffective, but one large one is miscommunication. Therefore, having a concise and achievable mission statement is an imperative way to minimize unintended consequences.

  2. Reading this article, I realized why it was important for us to have a leadership statement for our project. It is important to know what you stand for and why. My statement was: In order to be a successful leader, you must have passion in everything you do. Your love for what you do drives and motivates you to become everything you ever dreamed of. I felt like this represented who I am and my vision for success. I believe you must have great passion for something in order to accomplish your goals. Being passionate motivates you to put all your energy in what you love and find interest in. There’s no meaning in what you do unless you have drive to keep going. If people see how  committed you are to your goal, many will start to follow. They want to be apart of something meaningful and will do anything to be apart of the mission. When you have a driven leader and willing individuals, you set yourself up for success.

  3. This article definitely hits a few key points. Leaders need to have a clear, inspirational mission/vision statement. Martin Luther King had a dream, Oprah leads by being a great teacher, Advanced Autoparts focuses on educating and inspiring their customers, etc. Every successful business and leader that I have observed has taken the time to unite their followers by educating them on the main goal. I believe that this concept can extend down to personal circles, ie educating your supporters of your personal goals so that they can help push you to achieve them. Having a great mission statement produces unity, and unity is a catalyst of success.

    • Being a leader is not about being the loudest person in the room but about being the person who inspires others but their thoughts and ideas. I agree with Nicolette when she said gave examples of leaders and how their mission/vision statement is always clear. To do this effectively, you have to clearly see and understand the current state of the situation and be able to envision what it can become while also sharing that vision in an understandable way. Effective leaders have to be able to see where they are going and others have to be able to see their vision through, which is why a strong mission statement is very important.

  4. Excellent and timely article. Purpose is necessary for true and long-lasting success. Effective leaders are not just planners, decision formulators, and implementers of structure and processes. Effective leaders create shared perceptions and interpretations. We should think of leaders as meaning makers.

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