The connection between Cathedral Thinking and purpose

Reflections of Our CEO: Using Legacy as a Verb

The inspiration of a strong, organizational purpose only runs as deep as its connection with each individual member of the team. Yet, while “culture eats strategy for breakfast,” too few leaders tend the connection their team members feel between their personal values and their work.

Years ago, I was introduced by a prospective client to the founder of his organization. We had been hoping for some time to do work with their organization (an impressive and culturally important nonprofit), and so I had taken the introduction to the founder as a sign that I was getting close to being awarded a meaningful piece of work. As we settled into our seats in a hole-in-the-wall cafe near our office, she asked me her first question, “Tell me about yourself.”

Relentless entrepreneur and salesman that I am, I launched into my pitch, talking breathlessly for a few minutes about our work, the conversations I’d been having with her colleague, the importance of a sound strategy and a strong brand, and why our firm was a great fit to support their next steps.

She sat quietly, listening appreciatively, and smiling ever so slightly. As I finished, she paused for a beat or two, took a breath, and then asked me again, “Tell me about yourself.”

I learned something about myself that day….

Hold tight to the value of putting relationships first.

She wasn’t interested (yet) to hear me pitch my firm. She was interested to get to know me. So I reset and through a faint blush introduced myself anew—this time talking about my early life, my family, and what motivates me to do the work we do at Junxion.

We never did end up doing business with that client. There are many reasons it wasn’t a good fit, but I did get some real value from our conversation. You see, ever since then, I’ve hung tight to a value of putting relationships first, always.

It’s a commitment that has no doubt shaped our company, in that team members tend to stay with Junxion for a long time. It has no doubt shaped our success, in that clients tend to become friends and come back to us for more work. And it has no doubt shaped me, in that I look every day for ways to connect with people and to deepen relationships.

So in retrospect, this commitment to ‘relationships first’ as a personal value has been an important influence on Junxion. But we don’t make decisions in retrospect.

How can leaders connect personal values to organizational culture?

Can you think of a moment that has inspired your sense of what you value most deeply? Or put another way, what was one moment that gave you a profound insight into how you want to be seen by others? These are invaluable questions that tap your sense of what you most value—and that can lead to an articulation of your own sense of purpose. When your own sense of values and purpose align with the values and purpose of your workplace, you’ll find the work meaningful.

According to Dr John Izzo, best-selling author of The Purpose Revolution, we know that one-third of employees today choose their workplace based on their sense of meaning. Among millennials, some 80% report that they’ll take meaningful work even if it means lower pay. So what is ‘meaningful work,’ exactly? And how can leaders imbue their organizations with this magical magnet for talent?

The Power of Cathedral Thinking

Do you lead with Cathedral Thinking?

In medieval times, a cathedral might be commissioned by a King or a Queen or a Pope who would never see it stand. It would be designed by an architect who would never see it built. Generations of labourers might toil for lifetimes, but never see its stained glass, admire its arched ceiling, or hear its organ play…. Yet cathedrals were built….

Cathedrals stand throughout Europe, just as mosques stand throughout the Middle East, and temples stand throughout Asia—as imposing reminders of a time when tending mattered. When duration mattered. When patience was a virtue….

So much in our society today is wasted, thrown away, because it’s ‘disposable’ or because something better comes along. I’m not just talking about wasteful packaging or wasted food. I’m talking about wasted potential: Unrewarding careers. Unimportant businesses. We all know how hard it is to run a company. Why would anyone expend all that effort if it weren’t to fulfill some important, energizing, and beneficial purpose?

Do you lead your organization with Cathedral Thinking? Are you building for what you want, today? Or are you building for what society needs in the future?

I’m reminded of T E Lawrence:

All men dream: but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake in the day to find that it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dreams with open eyes, to make it possible.

Will you take your place among ‘the dreamers of the day?’

As we navigate through COVID-19’s devastating effects on health, our economies, and on society as a whole, business has a fundamental and essential role to play.

If it had a voice and could sit with you over a coffee in a cozy hole-in-the-wall, what would your company say is its purpose?

Of course, your company doesn’t have a voice. Despite how we treat companies under law, they aren’t autonomous. They aren’t people. But they can have a voice: that’s your job. As leaders and visionaries, your job is to articulate purpose on behalf of your company. So this is about you—but not only you. This is about your customers, but not only them, either. This is about your shareholders and your staff and your vendors…. This is about the aspirations and the opportunity for all of you, together.

This is about answering a simple, but profoundly challenging question:

How will the world be made better by your work?

This is not merely a conversation about ‘giving back.’

It’s a powerful and provocative question. It asks you to look hard at what your company—and all the people in it—values most deeply. It inspires you to consider the truly unique value your company can bring to the world. And it asks you to think beyond the annual cycles of reporting, and the rhythmic life cycles of product lines.

This isn’t a conversation about ‘giving back.’ It’s not a discussion of corporate social responsibility, or supply chain sustainability. It’s bigger than all those. It’s an invitation to consider ‘legacy’ to be a verb—something you do every day. Something that will help your company stand the test of time, earn a reputation for brilliance, and leave a true, positive, and beneficial mark. It’s an invitation into Cathedral Thinking.

In fact, as we look around at the devastation COVID-19 is causing in families and communities, on retailers and restaurateurs, and on Main Streets in cities and towns around the world, this is a moment that demands Cathedral Thinking.

Will you take time in this strange, daunting, mid-pandemic space to make a strong, healthy, purpose-led recovery is your business? We’re making it ours, putting relationships first, and helping our clients to imagine profound impact, to define a powerful purpose, and to take bold steps toward achieving it. 

Are you ready for Cathedral Thinking?

Let’s be audacious, together….


Mike Rowlands is President & CEO at Junxion, a firm that exists to accelerate the shift to the next economy. You can reach him via [email protected].

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