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The Purpose Driven Business

More than three thousand years ago, Greek philosopher, Aristotle, presented what has come to be known as The Golden Mean; that ideal middle ground that lies between two unhealthy extremes. Aristotle defined the behaviors found in the healthy middle ground as virtues and those in the extremes as vices and applied the Golden Mean to all sorts of conditions.

Vices fall into two categories at either end of the spectrum. On the low end, a virtue is lacking or deficient. On the high end, a virtue has been taken to an extreme and the behavior is excessive. Studying the Golden Mean, it becomes apparent that too much of a good thing is just as bad as too little.

Regarding matters of money, such as doing business, Aristotle observed that the primary mean is generosity, where the deficiency shows up as miserliness and the excess as extravagance. Both vices fall short and exceed the balanced state in contrary ways. The extravagant individual exceeds in spending and falls short in earning, where the miser exceeds in earning and falls short in spending.

To have a healthy thriving business, the vices must be avoided and that requires a fine tuned balancing act that can only be attained purposefully.

Unfortunately, few are taught purposeful living. Most people fall into one of the extremes to some degree and we can see the effect of that in the appalling statistics for business success versus failure. According to the Small Business Administration, 95% of all businesses fail within the first five years and the reason can always be traced to some vice. We also see vice in the equally appalling statistics on employee dissatisfaction and disengagement where year after year the number of disengaged employees hovers around 73% according to an extensive Gallup poll. This informs us of how rarely purpose driven leaders emerge.

This is bad news for those working for the average leader and good news for those in business for themselves, provided the business owner decides to lead purposefully. It’s good news for the purposeful leader because there is so little competition in that healthy middle ground, and it is from there that all great and lasting successes flow.

The illustration below demonstrates Aristotle’s Golden Mean. As you compare the purposeful place of balance to the two extremes, it becomes apparent why businesses that fall outside the Golden Mean fail to thrive.

You can go down the list item by item and see how the vices lead to business failure where the virtues drive success.

Let’s take the first set and apply it to sales or promotion, both of which are essential to business success. Whether coming from a place of cowardice or rashness, the result will be poor. Only courage would result in success.

Or consider the sloth-AMBITION-greed spectrum. Walk into just about any organization and you will see the two extremes operating everywhere. They counterbalance one another. Where you find greedy leaders, you find an over abundance of slothful followers and where you find slothful leaders, you find an over abundance of greedy followers. In either case, the environment is absolutely toxic.

Then there are those rare exceptions of ambitious young companies, such as Google, where the leaders purposefully engage their people and encourage innovation.

Looking at the modesty scale, one might question how humility is a vice. We tend to see humility as a good thing today, but what we call humility today is what Aristotle called modesty. He defined modesty as “high-mindedness” and humility as “small-mindedness.” To Aristotle, humility was the inability to accept compliments or credit for one’s achievements, or to extend them to others, where pride referred to taking credit where no credit is due. Clearly leaders who operate from either extreme would fail to attract loyal followers.

Aristotle’s Golden Mean is a great tool for checking your own attitudes and actions as you go about your day. It helps to know whether we are on the side of too much or too little in any particular area because knowing gives us the opportunity to make the proper adjustments and finally arrive at that place of balance which Daniel Goleman, author of Emotional Intelligence andWorking with Emotional Intelligence coined as (yep, you guessed it) emotional intelligence or EQ.

Although there are plenty of examples of companies that have survived and even thrived in the short term with ruthless leaders at the helm, that can only work where the organization is already so large and established, and the ruthless executive so protected, that it takes a long time for the effect of his or her bad behaviors to surface. They usually get canned once the destruction they cause becomes apparent. And if you go back to the founder of that large, established company, you will always find someone who operated from the Golden Mean. Sam Walton of Wal-Mart is a classic example. Wal-Mart has had lots of negative press since Walton’s passing; but while he was alive, Wal-Mart was the darling of the retail world and those running it today are still riding on the momentum Walton built.

Entrepreneurs and small business teams don’t have the luxury of deep pockets and established momentum, and absolutely cannot survive, much less thrive, unless they are functioning from the Golden Mean. It is only through this balanced, emotionally intelligent, purposeful approach that a small business can succeed.

An Eye-Opening Exercise

1. Take a few moments to go over the Golden Mean chart and think about your outcomes and/or the outcomes of people you know when they fall too far above or below the mean. What happens when an individual is cowardly, stingy, slothful, small- minded, secretive, morose (or ill-tempered), quarrelsome, self-indulgent, apathetic or indecisive? Have you ever seen a truly successful person that lived on this end of the spectrum?

How about someone who is rash, extravagant, greedy, prideful, too chatty or talkative to listen (loquacious), absurd, who flatters insincerely or who is insensible, irritable and impulsive?

2. Think of people you know or know about who operate from one or more of the vices. Jot them down on a sheet of paper. Include people you know as well as those who you are aware of through news reports, such as Bernie Madoff, the Enron folks, and the politicians that bicker and pout like little children.

3. Now, make a list of the people you know or know of who have (or had) a reputation that makes it apparent that they function from the Golden Mean, such as Steve Jobs.

4. Now compare the two lists. You will readily see how wide open the world of purposeful living and purposeful leadership really is.

Purposefully seek the Golden Mean. If you do, you will arrive at a place in your business and in your life that is truly golden.

A purpose driven business operates purposefully on every level and is always driven by a purposeful leader. The stated purpose of an organization will not be sustained for long if the leader lacks the emotional intelligence necessary to steer the business, and those who help to keep it running, in purposeful ways along that Golden Mean.

To have a greatly successful business, begin with yourself. The nature of your business will revolve around you so step into the zone of the Golden Mean and make the most of it.

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