Building a cathedral: Five tips to communicate purpose in a powerful manner

A man came upon a construction site where three men were chipping chunks of granite from large blocks.

He asked the first, “What are you doing?” and the man replied, rather down in the dumps, “I’m laying bricks.”

He came across the second man and asked, “What are you doing?” and the man replied, looking a tad more interested in his work: “I’m building a wall.”

As he approached the third, he heard the worker humming a tune as he worked. He glowed with energy. The man asked the same question he had of the others.

“What are you doing?”

The man stood, looked up at the sky, and a smile lit up his whole face.  “I’m building a cathedral!”

Purpose is everything. It transforms the monotonous into the monumental. It’s the tonic that sustains us through the sticky and the stressful.

Learning how to communicate purpose in a powerful manner is vital if you want your team to take positive action on anything. Martin Luther’s’ “I have a dream” speech demonstrates this point better than anything I’ve seen.

The sad news? Purpose, or the ‘why’, too often gets left behind in corporate communications. It is often an afterthought, lost in the quagmire of KPI’s, EBITDA, core competencies and other corporate jargon. Why is the compelling communication of purpose so often the forgotten magical tool in a leader’s toolkit?

Here are five tips to communicate purpose in a powerful manner to your own version of cathedral builders:

  1. Make your goal relatable. I don’t know many people who’ll get out of bed and go the extra mile to increase revenue by 10% for the company shareholders. You need to reach people’s hearts, not just their heads, if you want them to follow you. What is aspirational about your goal or vision? How will it make the world a better place? How will it help others? If it leaves you flat when you say it out loud, it most definitely will for them too.
  2. Communicate purpose and the ‘why’ UPFRONT and BEFORE you ask your team to chip chunks of granite. Give them context and purpose before you get down to what needs to be done. Repeatedly return to that purpose, especially when everyone is losing motivation or facing setbacks.
  3. Be crystal clear on the benefits TO THEM. Why should these construction workers build a cathedral? How will chipping chunks of granite benefit them? Tap into what motivates each person or group, as each will be different. ROI and increased revenue might get your chairman excited, but it’ll be development opportunities and maybe a new lunchroom that your team might get more excited about. Same purpose, different benefits. How will this make their working life better? What are the benefits specifically for them? What are the consequences of inaction?
  4. Keep it simple. What is the ONE THING you want your team members to walk away knowing?
  5. Use metaphor and story. We are hard wired to stories. They tap into emotion and our power to visualise the setting, the scene, the characters and the emotion. See here for more on how to ace the art of storytelling.

The purpose, or the ‘why’, requires looking at the bigger picture. To be a successful leader, you need to inspire your team to see how the mundane everyday activities are the foundations of something monumental. Communicating the benefits of these activities to your team and their role in achieving a common goal will help build your version of the cathedral.

How have you communicated purpose in a powerful manner? Share your experiences – I’d love to hear them.


Leave a Comment

Recent Posts from The Leader's Digest

Suzi McAlpine

Suzi McAlpine is a Leadership Development Specialist and author of the award-winning leadership blog, The Leader’s Digest. She writes and teaches about accomplished leadership, what magic emerges when it’s present, and how to ignite better leadership in individuals, teams and organisations. Suzi has been a leader and senior executive herself, working alongside CEOs and executive teams in a variety of roles. Her experience has included being a head-hunter, an executive coach, and a practice leader for a division at the world’s largest HR consulting firm. Suzi provides a range of services as a Leadership Development Specialist, including executive coaching, leadership workshops and development programmes for CEOs, leadership teams and organisations throughout New Zealand.

Welcome to

The Leader's Digest

Subscribe to The Leader’s Digest

Receive trending leadership topics and tips, straight to your inbox.

Please enter your name.
Please enter a valid email address.
Something went wrong. Please check your entries and try again.

Internationally Recognised


The Leader's Digest App