Purpose Shared: 3 Purpose Pioneers

photo credit: Daniel Scotton

photo credit: Daniel Scotton

We've had the honor of knowing and working closely with three Purpose Pioneers: Richard Leider, Meg Wheatley and Peter Block. We are taking a moment to celebrate their life's work of living and teaching purposefully. Enjoy!

Richard Leider, Meg Wheatley, and Peter Block

Purpose Shared: Peter Block on Re-envisioning Vision and Ownership

Photo Credit: Craig Neal

Photo Credit: Craig Neal

"A vision created for others to live out is patriarchy in action. There is no ownership in endorsement or enrollment, a fancy term for selling the vision."

We are thrilled to offer a recent essay by friend Peter Block. We deeply admire his thought leadership.


In implementing stewardship principles many well-meaning people in power make the false connection that if we want consistency and control in the quality of product or service we deliver to customers, we must have consistency and control in the way we govern the people creating the product or service. The business process and the human process are both important, but they operate on different principles. Forgetting this results in cosmetic change.

We need to understand that the methods of change we choose can undermine our intentions unless they produce a redistribution of power, purpose, and privilege.  

A clear example of how popular strategies of improvement can reinforce patriarchy and feed rather than confront our belief in consistency and control is the organizational visioning process. We have bought the notion that vision must come from the top.

Since the mid-1980s, every top management team has created its vision statement and worked hard on communicating it. What this means in practical terms is that a consultant or staff person has spent a lot of time interviewing executives and writing vision paragraphs. A half- or full-day retreat is then convened so the top group can wordsmith the statement and plan for its distribution.

The intent is sincere and the content is always appealing. Each management team affirms its uniqueness by declaring that it

  • is committed to being world class,
  • will be number one in its markets,
  • believes in its people,
  • stands firm for quality,
  • cares for customers,
  • is committed to the environment,
  • supports teams, and
  • is going to make a lot of money for shareholders
  • (or will be fiscally responsible to its stakeholders).

Sincere intentions. An appealing statement. What’s the problem?

First, it is boring, but put that aside. The significant problem is twofold: ownership and implementation. Ownership resides with those who craft and create a vision, and with them alone. A statement created for a team to endorse is not owned by the team. An even more fundamental defect is that, in most cases, the vision statement is created for the rest of the organization to live out.

Notice that the vision here is used to define a culture or a set of values to be lived. This is different from top management’s rightful task to define business mission and set business goals. A vision created for others to live out is patriarchy in action. There is no ownership in endorsement or enrollment, a fancy term for selling the vision.

The belief that crafting the vision is primarily a leadership-at-the-top function defeats, right at the beginning, the intent of driving ownership and responsibility toward those close to the work and the customer. Creating vision is in fact an ownership function, and if we want ownership widely dispersed, then each person needs to struggle with articulating their own, personal vision for their function or unit.

Ownership comes from an investment, and the investment required from each of us is to define purpose for ourselves. Each of us defining vision for our area of responsibility is how partnership is created. The desire for vision from the top is a subtle way of disclaiming ownership and responsibility. If this were our own business, it is unlikely that we would allow someone else to define values for us.

Adapted from Stewardship: Choosing Service over Self-Interest, 2d ed. (San Francisco: Berrett-Kohler, 2013). In the last 25 years, Peter Block’s Designed Learning has trained over 1,000,000 staff professionals worldwide using his highly successful Flawless Consulting™ workshops.

Resources: Designed Learning, Abundant Community

Community with Peter Block and friends

photo credit: craig neal

photo credit: craig neal

Dear friend Peter Block was the Conversation Starter at our Thought Leader Gathering in San Francisco on 9/12. An exhuberant participant writes about her experience  : "Well, Istarted with "WOW" on Friday and I ended with "wow"  Friday and I'll just start there again today!!  First and foremost, thank you so much for the gift of all your hard work and insightful design with your entire team including the incredible Peter!  It was such a full, rich, powerful day done in the spirit of risk of trying something new... The biggest gift of all was the powerful end of the day-the acknowledging of our gifts...it is such a hard thing for me and I so needed to learn from that ah-haa moment of grace for myself."


[10/7/08 note: Mariah Howard created a beautiful graphic recording of the TLG Panel Discussion and Harvest. Take a look here!]

Some excerpts from Peter's remarks:

~A distinction related to community – transformation vs. change: Transformation is changing the nature of things; Change is making things a little better.

~You’re involved in the work of transformation, changing the nature of what we have today. A culture based on dominance, a “I know and you don’t attitude,” which is the high control, patriarchal narrative. The master narrative is to find conflict, controversy and rev it up.

~There’s a political element to building community – not just be among friends, but to shift the narrative in which this country functions. It’s too big for me to really grasp myself, but change is too small a God to worship.

~Community requires an act of leadership – the courage to step forward to imagine another world. Not management, which is to give order and structure, but that doesn’t create anything new. It gives order and predictability, and most of us will sacrifice our freedom for predictability any days of the week.

~Safety in response to the culture of fear – as long as we’re convinced it’s dangerous out there we will trade our sovereignty for the promise of safety. Leadership is a convening task of bringing people together in a way that changes things. That’s why the arts matter. The arts understand the nuances of experience – they tune us in to see the world in a different way. That’s the work – creating something we’re unaccustomed to.

...more to come in the write-ups later this week!