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Leadership Story – What is Your Team Purpose?

Donkey Leadership Story – Purpose of a Team

Do you have a team purpose?

Knowing the purpose of a team is critical to engaging all participants on the team. The following is a great leadership and teamwork story that highlights the need to identify a team purpose and mission.

One day a Merchant was driving his Donkey towards home from the seashore with a heavy and burdensome load of salt.

They came upon a river they had crossed many times without any incident. However, this time the Donkey accidentally slipped half way across the river and fell.

By the time the Merchant had gotten his Donkey to his feet much of the salt had dissolved away. Having his burden much lighter, the Donkey was very happy for the rest of the journey.

The next day the Merchant went for another load of salt. The Donkey had a good memory and had not forgotten how easy his journey was the day before.

When he got about half way across the river again he purposefully fell into the water and was once more able to rid himself of most of his burden.

This angered the Merchant. He immediately turned and drove the Donkey back to the seashore and loaded him with two big baskets of sponges for the journey home.

Once more, half way across the river the donkey tumbled over hoping to lighten his load. This time however, once he had scrambled to his feet, a disconsolate Donkey dragged himself home under a load ten times the weight of his other loads.

Like the donkey some people just don’t like their job. They see their employment as something they have to do, as opposed to something they want to do. They often find ways to cut corners, regardless of how it affects the team or company they work for.

Leaders have an obligation to instill a mission and drive a team purpose with those they lead. Doing so creates a greater commitment on the team. Do your team and/or organization understand their purpose?

To the donkey the purpose was simply to do as he was told so he didn’t get scolded or beaten. He didn’t understand that to the merchant the purpose was to provide his family enough income to live for a year, which in turn provided the donkey food and shelter. He also didn’t foresee the consequences of his actions.

The team purpose should be defined and communicated. If it isn’t, team members will define it themselves to the possible detriment of the team or organization.

Every employee of every team or organization needs to know they are part of something magnificent and grand. They need something big to aspire to.

I observed the need to identify a purpose with my own children when they were younger. I had asked my two younger sons, Jacob (7 years old) and Nathan (5 years old) to clean their room on one Saturday morning.

Jacob always responds the same way by saying something like, “Do I have to? Nathan makes most of the mess and never helps.” Jacob had a point, and if I told him to just do it because I said, he would cut corners by throwing stuff under the bed, stuffing it in the closet etc… just to give the appearance of being clean and to do the minimum.

However, I found a way to create a greater commitment by creating a bigger purpose. I explained to him that he had an opportunity to really help Nathan learn to be responsible like him. I also described all the things mom had to do and that keeping things clean would help everyone and make her very proud of him.

The result was much different this time. I now had a son who saw himself as a leader with a greater purpose than just cleaning the room that his brother would quickly mess up again.

Question: What is your team purpose? Is defining the purpose of a team important to you? What else from this story can we learn? Let’s discuss, please comment below. Thanks!

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