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The Value of Purpose

Horatio Nelson’s ability to inspire men’s hearts to strive for a greater purpose is legendary. He infused his men with a desire to strive with passion, loyalty, perseverance and the intense will to win. That’s what great leaders do – they make people see they are part of something bigger than themselves. The leader’s spirit is infused into them.

Nelson was Admiral at the battle of Trafalgar in 1805, where his fleet of twenty-five British warships defeated a larger French/Spanish fleet of thirty-one warships. The entire French/Spanish fleet was either destroyed or captured without the loss of a single British warship. It is considered the greatest naval battle of all time. Nelson was himself killed in the battle as he stood on the deck of his flagship, by a lead ball fired from the musket of a French marine. As Nelson was carried below to his cabin his final words were: “Thank God, I have done my duty.”

Andrew Roberts, the author of Churchill: Walking with Destiny, called Nelson the greatest military hero whom England has ever produced, the personification of heroism itself. A statue of Nelson in London’s Trafalgar Square is inscribed as a tribute to mixed gallantry, powerful sense of duty, a faith in God, and a genius for Naval warfare. But what was his ability to inspire the heart of men, and why is this rare talent so important to a great leader?

A survey of U.S. organizations conducted by author Simon Sinek, asked these questions:

  • What does your company do?

  • How do they do it?

  • Why do they do it?

Questions one and two were well understood and most people were able to quickly answer them. Question three, however, was more difficult. In fact, most respondents couldn’t answer it. The question of “Why do you exist?” answers the question of purpose. This was the key to Nelson’s leadership. He could answer for his men WHY they fought – their purpose.

People don’t follow leaders because of the answer to the question of WHAT. They follow because of the answer to the question of WHY. People want to fight for and be a part of something greater – something bigger than themselves.

A great leader has clarity about the purpose of the organization – he or she believes in it and is passionate about it. Just as important, he or she communicates it clearly and simply so there’s no ambiguity. It’s this clarity about the WHY that inspires others to follow. This is where loyalty, blood-sweat-tears, innovation, and perseverance come from.

Leadership combines many talents and abilities but by far the greatest of all is inspiring the heart to fulfill the purpose of an organization. As Admiral John Jervis said of Horatio Nelson, he could infuse his spirit into others. His men believed passionately in what he believed, and they were committed to do whatever it took to complete the mission, even when the circumstances looked most dire.


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