What you can learn about purpose from a HOG

By Jim Whitt

My friend Don Riley sent me this email after the holidays:

Hi Jim,

Hope you and your family had a wonderful holiday season.

I don’t know why it just popped into my head, but I have belonged to an organization for the past 10 years that epitomizes your purpose principle.

The organization is called Harley Owners Group or HOG for short.  It was formed in 1983 by the Harley-Davidson Motor Company after the executives bought the company back from AMF.

The purpose of Harley Owners Group has remained the same for 29 years.  The ONLY purpose of Harley Owners Group is RIDE AND HAVE FUN.  Short, simple and everyone can easily remember it.

Best wishes for a great 2012.

Don Riley
HelpPoint Claim Services by Farmers
Specialty Claims Manager

Harley-Davidson has what could be described as a cult following. And I don’t mean that in a negative way. I think they have tapped into a human desire that is missing in today’s society.

In The Denial of Death, Ernest Becker writes, “People are capable of the highest generosity and self-sacrifice. But they have to feel and believe what they are doing is truly heroic, timeless and supremely meaningful. The crisis of modern society is precisely that people no longer feel heroic.”

We live in a society that preaches the opposite of heroism. We are conditioned to believe we want life to be easy. So, we consciously seek comfort and security and subconsciously seek heroism and meaning in movies, books, music and video games.

Nothing embodies heroism more than the western story where the cowboy plays the lead role. And the closest most people will ever come to riding a horse across an open stretch of prairie will be riding a motorcycle down an open stretch of highway. I think maybe this is where the Harley Owners Group plays a role in our modern-day western.

In the old west, a brand not only identified a ranch’s cattle, it was a symbol of pride and loyalty for all of its cowboys — they rode for the brand. Harley owners ride for the HOG brand.

CEOs and business owners can take a lesson from HOG. People today want more from their work than a paycheck — they want to be partners in a cause. Like cowboys of yesteryear they want to ride for the brand. There’s nothing heroic about a job if people find no meaning or purpose in their work. So, they search for it somewhere outside their work. And that’s precisely why studies show that the overwhelming majority of employees aren’t motivated. And that costs businesses billions of dollars.

PS: If you want to learn more I’ve written a book on the subject: Riding for the Brand: The Power of Purposeful Leadership.

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