12 Navigate Change Through a Common Purpose

Michael Mangan

A key aspect of becoming a successful leader is the ability to implement and overcome change.  While there are many facets to promoting successful change within an organization including communication and collaboration, the most significant is aligning change towards a common purpose.

Common purpose often focuses on the mission statement, but it is important to understand that implementing common purpose is personal.  Hickman, Robinson, and Sorenson (2013) define common purpose as “a deeply held sense of common destiny, a life course or calling; it is aligned with a mission but resonates profoundly with people’s values and their sense of themselves” (p. 4).  Successful leaders comprehend that common purpose is not just about the organization’s mission.  It is personal and involves all stakeholders.

The first significant shift toward a common purpose is a mindset change from an individualized focus to a group focus.  It is important that everyone in the organization aligns with the same purpose.  This is a challenge when considering the diversity of stakeholders potentially involved in an organization.  An important step towards developing a common purpose is building trust.  Through trust, connections and relationships can thrive, allowing the ability to develop a common purpose.

Development of a common purpose in an organization is the job of the leader.  A leader goes about developing a common purpose through building relationships with stakeholders involved in an organization.  Building connections between individual goals and the mission of an organization relate directly to a leader’s ability to navigate change.

A leader’s capacity to listen to followers is key to building connections.  Through being a listener, leaders create personal connections with groups of followers.  This allows for an understanding of individuals personal and organizational values.  Once networked, leaders then can build systems to collaborate and work towards a common purpose.

A challenge that leaders often come up against is the lack of trust among followers and their leaders.  Kouzes and Posner (2010) state that people “trust a stranger more than their boss” (p. 75).  When attempting to create a common purpose within an organization, trust is imperative.

Leaders working towards change must realize the importance of building a foundation of trust between fellow employees.  Change will fail without trust in an organization.  Trust opens the doors to communication and the ability to accomplish goals as a group.  Developing trust enables leaders and followers to work with a common purpose.

Building trust in an organization takes skill.  Great leaders can overcome the challenge and build common purpose among followers.  According to Edwards (2016), leaders build trust through patience, calm, transparency, openness, flexibility, mutual feedback, and continuous team building.  With these techniques, leaders create a collaborative environment where the common purpose can be established and used when navigating change.

Common purpose requires an environment of collaboration.  Due to the complexity of leadership tasks involving many stakeholders, collaboration needs to exist and align towards a common purpose.  It is the role of the leader to build collaboration in an organization.

In the world of education, collaboration has become a staple.  This problem stems from the many different educators, staff, and administrators that impact students in the classroom.  Royal (2014) explains that collaboration is about people with varying backgrounds coming together towards a common purpose.  Collaboration can be a challenge in education due to innovative changes taking shape in classrooms across the country.  A leader in education must build collaboration to create success, but how are they to overcome the challenges?

Classrooms are moving from brick-and-mortar to online learning that involves project-based and personalized learning models.  Finding common purpose in a complex setting is a significant challenge for today’s leaders.  These complexities include a diverse geographic location, varied learning mediums (including online, blended, and traditional learning models), and a continued increase in content.  Successful leaders turn challenges into opportunities.  This is done by aligning the mission of a common purpose with the diverse internal and external stakeholders involved in the organization.

An important step is to find something that all members of the organization have in common.  In the case of education, it is the students.  All stakeholders involved in education carry the task of doing what is best for students.  Once that is established, growth can happen, and the work towards developing a common purpose can begin.

An organization must share a common purpose to navigate the difficult process of change.  Establishing a common purpose is often a paradigm shift for many organizations.  Through trust, collaboration, and finding commonality, organizations can successfully implement change using common purpose as a vehicle.


Edwards, S. (2016, June 26). 7 ways strong leaders build trust in a team. Retrieved from https://www.inc.com/samuel-edwards/7-ways-strong-leaders-build-trust-in-a-team.html

Hickman, Robinson, G., & Sorenson, G. (2013) The power of invisible leadership: how a compelling common purpose inspires exceptional leadership. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications.

Kouzes, J. M., & Posner, B. Z. (2010). The truth about leadership: the no-fads, heart-of-the-matter facts you need to know. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Royal, K. (2014, July 24). The meaning of education collaboration. Retrieved from http://connectlearningtoday.com/meaning-education-collaboration/


Change: A Leader's Perspective Copyright © 2017 by Michael Mangan. All Rights Reserved.

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