Management Articles


Purposeful Leaders Make Meaning

By: Jim Clemmer

Jim Clemmer is an international keynote speaker, workshop leader, author, and president of The CLEMMER Group, a North American network of organization, team, and personal improvement consultants based in Kitchener, Ontario, Canada. His other bestsellers include Firing on All Cylinders: The Service/Quality System for High-Powered Corporate Performance, and his most recent book, Growing the Distance: Timeless Principles for Personal, Career, and Family Success. His web site is

"An essential factor in leadership is the ability to influence and organize meaning."
— Learning to Lead, Warren Bennis and Joan Goldsmith
In our organization and team development consulting at The CLEMMER Group, we often bring groups of people together to get their perspectives on strengths and weaknesses, improvement opportunities, and the like. One morning I asked a group of very quiet production and service people a series of these questions. I was getting very few responses. This was going nowhere fast. Finally one grizzled veteran sitting at the back of the room with his arms folded said, "Jim, I think you're confusing us with people who care."

Assuming we care (if not, we're in the wrong place), the leadership challenge —even obligation – is to help others care. In today's environment this is one of the toughest aspects of leadership. Partially that's because of the wide spread "Victimitis Virus" —hopelessness and powerlessness from the poor-little-me-syndrome. Cynicism is also running wild as popular cartoon strips (and associated books) show nothing but the negative sides of organizational life and paint all managers as bumbling idiots.

Whole cultures can become infected with a lack of meaning and emptiness. Downsizing and lay-offs have also reduced loyalties and commitment. If we can't help others become ever more committed to the organization, we can help them increase their commitment to the organization's cause. This involves aligning the personal purpose and values of people with the team or organization's deeper reason for being.

At The CLEMMER Group we try to express this essential leadership element through this values statement; "We're here to make the world a better place. Our overarching purpose is to make a difference in each other's lives and in the lives of those we serve. We maintain a healthy bottom line to provide financial strength and stability, but money isn't our primary focus. We know that if we serve our customers well and manage our business effectively, profits will be our reward."

In his book, Going Deep: Exploring Spirituality in Life and Leadership, psychologist, Ian Percy, outlines a very useful change or development framework. The PIES model helps to chart the depth of commitment to a personal, family, team, or organization change. The depth of the commitment shows how likely the change is to really make a lasting difference. The first, and most superficial level is Political. At this level appearances are everything. We make "politically correct" change and try to show that we will "get with the program." The next level of depth is Intellectual. How's where a good business case or logical argument wins the day. Facts and analysis convince us that the change makes sense. Both of these first two levels deal with the head.

At the third level, Emotional, we're dealing with the heart. The change feels right. We want to make it happen because it excites us. The fourth, and deepest level, of commitment is Spiritual. We make the change because it is in step with our deeper selves. The direction of the family, team, or organization and its underlying purpose touches our very soul. At this level, Ian explains, "there is no gap and no separation between belief and action. The gap has been filled by the very essence of who you are. You and the object of your commitment have become one."

Queen bees give off a chemical substance that keeps the hive together. It has been called "the spirit of the hive." Few of us can sit around strictly as queen bees, although it is a tempting thought. We need to be worker bees as well. It's a balance issue. As we contribute our work to our team or organization, we also need to contribute a deeper sense of meaning or purpose. If we're going to be leaders, we need to take our selves and ours to the Emotional and Spiritual levels. Regardless of our formal role, we need to help build the spirit of the team or organization. This leadership comes from our own center. I can only contribute the spirit and meaning that I feel. I need to lead with all my heart and soul.

© Copyright 2001 The CLEMMER Group

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