Humble Mayor Chooses Purpose Over Politics for the Right Focus

If you haven’t heard about the mayor in Tulsa, Oklahoma, you’re in for a treat. In June of 2016, G.T. Bynum was the underdog who ran for office against a two-term incumbent. In what was a very tight race, his opponent’s campaign began as you might expect—right out of what Bynum called a classic partisan playbook. On the heels of early pointed attacks from the opposition, Bynum asked, “What if we ran a campaign that was not about running against someone, but was about bringing people together behind a common vision?”

By focusing on the citizens of Tulsa and the real issues they faced, Bynum’s transparent and community-centric campaign began to gather steam. Tulsans took notice of his fresh message and Bynum won the election by 17 points. Because Bynum chose to focus on unifying concerns, Tulsans have elected a mayor who’s putting purpose first.

According to a recent study, it’s safe to say that millennials who work for business leaders today would favor Bynum’s approach. In fact, 64 percent of these employees feel their companies are mostly focused on their own agenda rather than considering our broader society. A disconnect worth addressing when millennials will account for 75 percent of the workforce by 2025.

In lieu of getting caught up in office politics and competing agendas, you can positively influence your culture with a focus on purpose. You might be wondering what that greater purpose can be for your organization. For many colleagues I’ve talked to, it’s about supporting a vision everyone has played a role in creating. Whether it’s a set of agreed upon values for how you conduct business or a cause in which your organization shares an interest, you can arrive at that answer by involving your people.

Employee engagement author John Izzo agrees that your people have to feel not only as if they have a say in purpose but also a personal stake in it. For example, Izzo explains how the leaders at Unilever have been asked to write their own mission statement about the legacy they want to leave in their part of the business. By asking leaders to reflect on how they want to be remembered, Unilever effectively elevated their team’s focus to the bigger picture.

“The conventional wisdom is that to win an election, you have to dumb it down and play to your constituencies’ basest, divisive instincts. And when somebody wins an election like that, they win, that’s true, but the rest of us lose.”

– G.T. Bynum in “A Republican mayor’s plan to replace partisanship with policy”, putting people and purpose over politics

Choosing purpose over politics in the office also means over-communicating about it. Employees often feel energized by knowing their company successfully blends purpose with profit. Tirelessly incorporating purpose into every aspect of your business keeps it top-of-mind and reminds your people that it’s a priority rather than lip service.

If you’ve watched G.T. Bynum’s Ted Talk, then chances are you’re rooting him on like I am. He’s already had a promising first year in office, and we have until 2020 to see how his unifying voice may continue to create real change for Tulsans. If he can successfully apply this model to reach purposeful goals within a community, imagine what’s possible in your own organization. Bynum said it best: “Let’s agree to set aside our philosophical disagreements and focus on those aspirations that unite us … That is the path to a better future for us all.”

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