The Purpose Effect: Building Meaning in Yourself, Your Role and Your Organization

May 16, 2016


Dan Pontefract explains why he uses the term team member instead of employee.


Excerpt from Chapter One: The Purpose of Purpose
The Purpose Effect: Building Meaning in Yourself, Your Role and Your Organization
by Dan Pontefract
Elevate Publishing



Members of the Team

This is not a story of “us-versus-them,” of employees versus leaders … The Purpose Effect is not the unilateral responsibility of leaders, nor should employees be solely accountable themselves. In fact, whether you lead people or not, employees at any level in the organization are both leaders and followers. Whatever the scenario, all employees are in fact leaders fulfilling personal, role-based and organizational objectives. While each of us has crafted our own personal values, interests, dislikes, priorities and objectives in our life, we all have tasks that are part of our role at work, things we have to get done.

In our roles, we each serve the interests (and requirements) of the organization, too. Thus, we are leading our lives, and performing our roles, in concert with the organization that employs us. […]

As followers, employees who join a firm become part of and influence an existing system of organizational processes, decisions and personalities. We all have a boss of some sort. My trip to San Francisco and the accompanying expense report has to be approved by someone. The CEO reports into the Board who in turn possesses the responsibility to hire or fire that same organization’s most senior leader. A politician is often elected by constituents, who she ultimately serves. A call center agent leads her customers to answers and solves many problems while reporting to a team manager. So, too, we must follow rules and processes inside and outside our places of work. There are rules to follow in order to earn a driver’s license, just as there are rules to drive the car itself. For The Purpose Effect to be enacted, all people at whatever level of the organizational chart must accept they are both followers and leaders at work, and in life.

For the remainder of the book, I will refer to such people using the term team member rather than employee, which I find somewhat derogatory, and, in fact, even dehumanizing. Employee is suggestive of a head to be counted, another asset to be logged on a spreadsheet. The notion of a team member is something I have learned while working at TELUS. The Chief Executive Officer of the company, Darren Entwistle, does not refer to himself as CEO but instead as a “member of the TELUS team.” Like me, Darren is a team member.

It is the same for everyone. We are all part of the team. Be it private, not-for-profit or public sector—whether full-time or part-time—I believe everyone has the right to feel as though they are an important part of the team. I believe the term is far more inclusive, more engaging. Such a term unites us. Team member also removes the impersonality and subjugation implied by employee. Perhaps most importantly, team member recognizes the potential we all carry within us to both lead and follow, looking past the formality of hierarchical structures and job titles.

As team members, we should begin to think of ourselves as both leader and follower. So, too, we ought to be both a dreamer and a doer. We must dream about an idea or an outcome, but we must also make it happen. Therefore, all of us are leaders and followers; dreamers and doers. Omnificent. On purpose. We are all team members.

A question, then, for all team members to ponder is whether any of us should continue waiting for purpose to magically happen. We might dream of a higher calling or purpose, but we must possess the courage to achieve it, too. The Purpose Effect requires bilateral action. It requires a new way of thinking about the relationship between an individual and an organizational definition of purpose. The resulting manner in which team members perform in their roles is understood in the context of this relationship. It also requires, however, a definitive course of action to ensure the sweet spot is achieved.

We should become what Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard referred to as a continual fluid process. “An existing individual is constantly in the process of becoming; the actual existing subjective thinker constantly reproduces the existential situation in his thoughts and translates all his thinking into terms of process.”5 But too often, we remain static, forever solely the dreamer or the follower. It remains a “what might have been” mindset whether as individuals or for the organization as a whole.

As psychotherapist Carl Rogers puts it, “To some it appears that to be what one is, is to remain static. They see such a purpose or value as synonymous with being fixed or unchanging.”6 But Rogers, like Kierkegaard, believed humans ought to be both the leader and the follower; the dreamer and the doer. “To be what one is,” he wrote, “is to enter fully into being a process. Change is facilitated, probably maximized, when one is willing to be what he truly is. It is only as he can become more of himself, can be more of what he has denied in himself, that there is any prospect of change.”7 Therefore, for purpose to manifest in ourselves, our organizations and in our roles, we must heed Kierkegaard’s advice, which is, “To be that self which one truly is.”

This book encourages individuals to become a fluid process of insight and action in the quest to create the “sweet spot.” The Purpose Effect is possible but it requires a different way of both thinking and acting, especially in the three areas that make up The Purpose Effect: personal, organizational and role.


Dan Pontefract is Chief Envisioner at TELUS, a Canadian telecommunications company, where he helps customers enhance their corporate cultures and collaboration practices. He is also the author of Flat Army: Creating a Connected and Engaged Organization (2013). Dan has written for Forbes, Harvard Business Review and The Huffington Post, and has presented at multiple TED events. He lives in Victoria, Canada.

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