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A Pro Tip from Aristotle

In my very first official leadership role, I was expected to motivate an evening crew of 20 employees who were required to accurately fill store orders each night.

Our team worked every evening to properly set up the next day’s shipments. It was a lot of pressure for a brand new, 21-year-old leader.

In my role, I was constantly having to make complicated decisions that affected important store merchandising outcomes. Between making operational decisions and working to keep morale up among grumpy late-night employees, I learned a lot about leadership quickly.   

Leading within an organization can be a rather complicated experience.

Leaders are often tasked with bringing about order within chaotic shifting dynamics. Organizations are complex organisms. They have multiple parts moving simultaneously to bring about a product or service.  

Within the milieu of organizational complexity, leaders are required to optimize resources and motivate teams. And, they’re expected to do this while making prudent decisions and meeting organizational demands.

The work of leadership requires wisdom. Looking back on my first leadership experience, wisdom was exactly what I needed.  

Where does one go for more wisdom?

Ancient Greek philosophers had much to say about human existence and action. One such philosopher, Aristotle, proposed the idea of “telos.” Modern philosophers describe Aristotle’s notion of telos as referring to “the final cause of something.” This is similar to what we might think of as an end goal, chief purpose or the supreme end of an endeavor. 

Aristotle understood the wisdom of fully grasping the intended purpose, or telos, of everything from a work of art to human action. Consequently, he felt each endeavor should have a final cause or chief purpose behind it. If not, we are just spinning our wheels, making decisions and allocating resources toward no meaningful end.

Think about how knowing the chief purpose of something effects your personal motivation. How motivated are you to take on a task, make an important decision, or attempt to motivate someone…when you don’t know the end of the task you are supposed to tackle? 

As I fumbled through my first team leadership experience, I only ensured my team got the job done accurately and on time.

I was not a very inspiring leader. As time went on, along with some great mentoring, I began to realize people needed to feel a connection to a greater end, a telos. And it was my responsibility as a leader to help them make that connection.  

Along with Aristotle, at Milestone Leadership we believe strongly in the clarity of the chief end or purpose (telos) within an organization. When the purpose is clear and team members understand their place inside that purpose, employee engagement is sure to trend positively.  

As you think about your organization, division or department team, how clearly understood is the telos of your organization?

Here are a few reflection questions to consider: 

  • Do you have an organizational telos (Mission)? If not, it is vital to develop a clear and compelling mission for your organization. 
  • How would your team members describe your organization’s mission?  
  • To what degree do your team members recognize their role within the organizational mission? 
  • How would your team members describe the ways in which their daily tasks are associated with the organizational mission? 

An organizational telos is easy to neglect amid the whirlwind of organizational demands.

However, the decision-making clarity and employee engagement that will likely result from a clear organizational telos is well worth the time. You might consider what not having an organizational telos, or a lack of a clear telos may be costing your organization. 

If you are looking for extra support in developing, clarifying or cascading your organizational mission, Milestone Leadership can help. For more information, contact us here. 

Erik Dees, PhD is a partner with Milestone Leadership. Opinions expressed are those of the author.

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