The Actions of Leadership Series, #1: Clarify the Quest

Thoughts on Excellence Free E-Newsletter Series
Volume 18, Issue No. 5a
September 1, 2019

By Dan Coughlin


Leaders distinguish themselves by their actions, not by their titles, income, gender, race, size, or personality type.

Leaders share certain actions in common. It is through their actions that they emerge as leaders. In this series, The Actions of Leadership, we will focus on specific actions you can take to influence a group of people to achieve something truly remarkable. We begin this series by focusing on clarifying the quest you want your group to undertake.

Clarify the Quest

A quest is a journey to prove yourself capable of fulfilling your purpose.

If you expand that to a group of people or to an entire organization or an entire society, then a quest becomes a journey to mutually prove yourselves capable of fulfilling the group’s, organization’s, or society’s purpose.

Before establishing a plan or writing something or organizing a meeting, the first step is to clarify the quest. The leader might be the one who states it for the first time, or it might be someone from within the group that states it first, or it might be someone from outside the group who states it first. It doesn’t matter who establishes the quest. The key is that it is clear for everyone to understand.

Without a clear quest the words become just rhetoric. The efforts as a group become meaningless. The focus becomes diluted. And nothing really gets accomplished. The individuals don’t know why they are together, and they don’t how they are going to accomplish anything meaningful. It becomes a social group, and then eventually disperses.

The Quest Questions to Answer

There are two essential questions to answer:

  1. What meaningful purpose are we trying to fulfill?
  2. What is the journey that we need to go in order to fulfill that purpose?

Whether the leader comes up with the answers or someone else does is not the important thing. The important thing is that the quest has to be clear. The answers to those two questions need to be clear.

Once these answers are clear, the leader can begin to influence the group in many important ways toward being successful on the quest. We will focus on those actions in later articles. However, without a clear quest, there is nothing for a leader to do.

Not All Quests are Created Equal

Some quests bring out remarkable efforts and passions from people, and some are meaningless duds. You need a purpose that really resonates with people. It has to hit them right between the eyes and deep into their hearts.

And then you have to describe the journey that people are going to have to go on to fulfill that purpose. Do not sugarcoat the journey. If the purpose is great enough, people will go on almost any journey. If the purpose is meaningless, people won’t get off the couch.

The first action of the leader is to keep clarifying a remarkably important purpose and the journey it will take to fulfill that purpose.

What is the quest you are leading people on?

Now let’s make this as real and as relevant as we can.

In your work, what quest are you on? What is the purpose you want to fulfill, and what is the journey that you and your team members need to go on to fulfill that purpose?

Is this purpose so meaningful and so relevant to your group that it is willing to go on the journey that is required to get there?

That’s it. Don’t over-complicate this step. Talk with your team members, people throughout your organization, your customers, and your prospects. Find out what people are really thinking and feeling.

Take out a sheet of paper, and write down the incredible purpose that you want fulfilled. Talk about it with people. See if it resonates. Keep honing it. Make it something truly noble.

And then talk about the journey, what it’s going to take to fulfill that purpose.

This is the first act of leadership.

Republishing Articles

My newsletters, Thoughts on Excellence, have been republished in approximately 40 trade magazines, on-line publications, and internal publications for businesses, universities, and not-for-profit organizations over the past 20+ years. If you would like to republish all or part of my monthly articles, please send me an e-mail at with the name of the article you want in the subject heading. I will send you the article in a word document.

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