How to Focus on Purpose Through Chaos

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A brief history lesson

In 1776, the United States was in a crisis as George Washington was leading through chaos that could have spelled the destruction of the nation.  

Less than a week after his successful surprise attack on the Hessians at Trenton, George Washington and his Army were in crisis. On the last day of December, the enlistments of many of his soldiers would be up. The men were looking forward to going home, but if they left, Washington might not be able to continue the fight for freedom. Lining up his command, he made a personal appeal for them to re-enlist. 

And this is what George Washington said: 

My brave fellows, you have done all I asked to do, and more than can be reasonably expected; but your country is at stake, your wives, your houses and all that you hold dear. You have worn yourselves out with fatigues and hardships, but we know not how to spare you. If you consent to stay one month longer, you will render that service to the cause of liberty, and to your country, which you probably can never do under any other circumstances.” 

-George Washington

About half the men agreed to stay, making possible another victory just three days later at Princeton. Washington’s words were short, but powerful enough to change their hearts and re-center them on their purpose. He helped remind them about everything they were there to do.

a-conversation-from-history-to-help-leaders-focus-on-purpose-through-chaos George Washington leading through chaos
Washington Crossing the Delaware River, The Met

Leading Through Chaos in COVID-19

At this moment through the COVID-19 crisis, we are discovering leaders everywhere, in 2020, facing the exact same dilemma. Teams who need to re-center on their purpose, who need to be reminded of the importance of their work, and their larger mission. 

Whether that mission is on the front lines or staying at home, we all have a purpose right now. THE FACT THAT COVID-19 IS HERE IS THE OPPORTUNITY TO REALLY SHOW OUR DEDICATION WHICH WE COULDN’T DO IN NORMAL TIMES.

The Message for Leader’s To Use Today

Now, think about this, if you were reading this speech to your team, how much of this message would you change? 

You’d most likely not speak like that any more, but the message is everything right now. 

As you’ll see in this video, one of our leadership participants said it best, as he took that message out of 1776 and into 2020 during COVID-19, and he said this is the message he would give his team right now. 

“Times are hard right now and there’s more being asked of you than ever before and there’s a lot going on, but it’s also an opportunity to do things that no one in our generation has ever done before. To create an atmosphere around us where we can help each other and therefore help others literally save lives.

We can literally save lives with what we’re doing right now, and be a force of strength for our entire country. It’s going to take more than we’ve ever given but it’s a worthwhile endeavor because there are friends and families lives at stake to make this happen.“

The context changed, the year changed, the leader changed, the circumstances changed, but the message, right now, is everything. This is perhaps one of the most powerful examples of centering on your purpose. It’s among the most powerful examples of saying, “You know what? The fact that COVID-19 is here is the opportunity to really show our dedication which we couldn’t do in normal times.”

Have you had conversations like this lately? Because we all need to have them. We all need to remember the WHY behind the What. We all have a role to serve right now, and we need our leaders to be having these conversations. 

Leading Through Chaos Resources:

If you’re on the hunt for resources to help your team through this chaotic time, follow this free step-by-step plan to help set you up for your mindset, with some tools, and some actionable takeaways.


George Washington’s speech encouraging his men to re-enlist in the Army.

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