When you hear the term leadership purpose, do you wonder what it means? How can a business leader have his/her own purpose, when typically organisations do not provide space and time for that to happen?
Business leaders I’ve met and worked with around the globe are often wearing the organisational ‘overcoat’ of leader; defined by their title, their role and their accountabilities. These include, empowering employees, delivering strategic goals and objectives; establishing key stakeholder relationships and achieving commercial targets. All very plausible, but everybody sounds the same. Certainly, none sounds like an exceptional leader. Results may be deemed exceptional, but at what cost are they achieved? How does meeting these organisational targets align an individual’s personal values and leadership purpose? I believe that an exceptional leader stands out from the average leader by showing three distinct traits:
1. They have a strong sense of identity and purpose.
2. They inspire others to be exceptional.
3. They create exceptional business outcomes.
Would you be more motivated and engaged as a business leader if you could align your organisational objectives with your own leadership purpose? A purpose, which upholds your values, inspires others and allows you to remain true to yourself. Your values are a cornerstone of your leadership purpose. They define not just what you do but how you do it and why.
Research indicates that business leaders rarely have the opportunity to consider what their own leadership purpose is, beyond that ‘placed’ on them by an organisation. Much less, do they have clarity on their purpose, and how it directs their thoughts, actions and outcomes. As seen in the case study below, this often leads to our values becoming transient, vague and undefined.
I was interviewing someone for the role of Project Management Trainer. He answered all of my questions with the right words and phrases, but something didn’t ‘feel’ right. So I asked him to describe his values to me. He reached into his bag and pulled out his notebook. He spent some time thumbing through until he found the correct page and said, “Let’ see what they are this week.” Needless to say, he didn’t get the job.
Your values are core to the person you are. They don’t alter significantly over time and they set your boundaries both morally and ethically. They become what others know you for. So clarity about your values is essential. You can generate clarity by asking questions, sorting through opportunities and trusting your instincts about what is right for you. Your values guide your thoughts, actions and behaviours. They provide an unconscious response to what comes your way, and will help you to develop your leadership purpose.
Clarity about your leadership purpose will strengthen your impact and help you to convey congruent and consistent messages based on your values. It is much easier to engage and influence others when your message is clear and unambiguous, and it comes from both your heart and your mind. If you’re unsure of your values your authority as a role model diminishes.
The same research indicates that the opposite is true – lack of clarity contributes to negative self-esteem. So where do you start gaining clarity on who you are? A good place is to think about when you were a child before you entered the world of adult responsibility and business rules. Children have boundless energy and curiosity. Think about what made you laugh; what problems you liked to solve and what games you loved to play. Now think about your passions today. What do you love to do?
Your life is rich with what makes you who you are. Think also of any major events that have confronted or challenged you. Along with your passions, these events will have shaped you. All together they are what makes you unique. By default this makes your leadership purpose unique (like a fingerprint). Think beyond your job, your family and friends. Consider your ‘higher purpose’ if you will. This story may help.
President John F. Kennedy was visiting NASA headquarters for the first time, in 1961. While touring the facility, he introduced himself to a janitor who was mopping the floor and asked him what he did at NASA. “I’m helping put a man on the moon.” The janitor got it. He understood the vision and his part in it. He had a purpose.
If you’re curious about developing your leadership purpose that’s a great start. However, it may be that your organisation is unable to allow you to fulfill your leadership purpose and become an exceptional leader. To help ease the adjustment, consider small incremental changes you could make to ‘edge’ closer to your desired leadership purpose.
Over time, as you adopt new actions and behaviours aligned to your leadership purpose, these will have an impact on those you lead and influence in the network that supports you. Consider how you will describe to others any changes you make and the reasons why. For yourself, how will you measure your success and what milestones will you establish along the way?
Medical evidence is growing that when people have:
A distinct sense of self
Clarity of purpose
A belief they are significant in the world.
There is a direct link to improved health, reduced stress and to longevity. So it’s got to be worth doing something about it. Defining your leadership purpose could help you to live a longer, healthy life.
“That the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse. What will your verse be?" Walt Whitman
Ref: Adapted from HBR Article ‘From Purpose to Impact’, Nick Craig & Scott A. Snook, May 2014