In General, Transformational Leaders

Steve Jobs’ said, “Being the richest man in the cemetery doesn’t matter to me. Going to bed at night saying we’ve done something wonderful, that’s what matters to me.” Albert Einstein said, “Nothing truly valuable arises from ambition or from a mere sense of duty; it stems rather from love and devotion towards men and towards objective things.” Two people with a clear sense of purpose who made great impact.  I am personally convinced that purpose is what separates leaders from managers. Yet in our 24/7 work lives how many times do we stop to think about the one factor that makes all the difference in our leadership? Here are five reasons why our purpose is core to our leadership and some leadership practices to help you discover your purpose.

First, a true story. I was inspired to my purpose by a prostitute from Nepal. It was about 6 years ago and I was leading our company’s business in Mexico. I had just returned from a trip to our Switzerland headquarters where my team and I had been recognized as one of 10 in the organization (of 90,000 employees) for our business results. After the initial euphoria wore off, I found myself strangely disappointed. I expected to be happier and was not. It was then that I saw a documentary about child prostitution and trafficking between Nepal and the brothels in Bombay. The documentary went on to profile a young Nepali former prostitute who had created a half-way house on the border of Nepal and India to help others escape.

The power and sense of purpose that I sensed in this woman was something that had eluded me thus far in my 15+ year corporate career despite all the outward trappings of achievement and success. She had somehow figured out how to escape not just her pimps, but her small self, and instead found a bigger self in the work she was doing. It was the discovery that achievement does not fulfill us that set me off on a journey of discovery into my own purpose.

What is Purpose?

It’s the UNIQUE impact we are called to make for the benefit for others. Each one of us can find purpose and bring it fully to our work and to our lives. It shows up in the unique talents we have that we use to contribute to a better world (whatever our personal definition of that is).  It shows up in the biggest challenges we have faced, which like the Nepali prostitute, we are here to correct.  However it shows up, when we find it or it finds us, we come alive.

Five Reasons Why Purpose Makes Us Better Leaders

1. Purpose deeply engages us. What if we did our work like it was part of our calling? Would the work we would do be more creative, more satisfying, more impactful? In fact McKinsey’s Centered Leadership project talks about a sense of meaning as being a powerful motivator for women and studies have shown that, on average, among the factors that motivate, it ranks higher for women than for men. When we pursue our work with purpose it becomes a well that energizes us to keep going in the face of great adversity.

2. Purpose gives us personal power. Purpose helps us be more powerful. Women in particular have a love-hate relationship with power. Most of the power we see exercised around us tends to be the power of hierarchy and for many of us, this is not our top motivator. A sense of purpose, a striving for something bigger than ourselves, legitimizes power for women. We are much more able to find our voice to ask for something bigger than us, than to ask for something for ourselves.

3. Purpose makes us courageous and resilient. It energizes us to take risks to move beyond our fears. Purpose calls us to grow, to be bigger, stronger, more resilient than we thought was possible. The ability to take risks is a key attribute required of leaders. It is required to be a change agent in any situation. Having a bigger purpose is what propels us to put ourselves outside of our comfort zone.

4. Purpose helps us engage others. When there is a shared mission, something big that inspires others, it is contagious. It builds engagement. People go the extra mile because their minds and more importantly their hearts are engaged. This comes from us understanding our personal purpose, sharing it with others and linking it with the work that we do. It comes from us understanding purpose in others. Simon Sinek in this compelling TEDTalk shares the biology of how great leaders inspire action through a contagious sense of purpose.

5. Purpose helps us navigate the Goldilocks Syndrome. Many senior women leaders find themselves stuck between gender leadership stereotypes that define leaders as decisive, aggressive, and independent but expect women to be collaborative, care-taking, and accommodating. What is a woman leader to do? When she exhibits the qualities of a traditional leader, she is often perceived as “too aggressive” or domineering. Others are not promoted because they lack “executive presence,” sometimes a catch-all term that means we don’t see you as having the potential to be in the next job even though your performance is great in this one.  Either too hard or too soft, but never just right. Tapping into our own sense of purpose allows us to be decisive and tough and empathetic and powerful in service of a bigger cause.

I know what you’re thinking. “I’m convinced purpose is good. How do I find it?” That journey is very personal and you have to take it. What I can point you to is a set of leadership practices that will help you get there.

Leadership Practices to Connect With Purpose

1. Find Your Inner Voice. Purpose comes from the heart, from intuition, from our emotions.  It moves us and others because we are moved by it. Take some time to be by yourself. Start a leadership practice of journaling.  Jot down experiences that particularly energize you at work or in your life. Then start to look at some common themes in these experiences. What are you doing? Who are you being? What strengths are you exercising? What do people seek you out for? What are the deepest challenges you’ve experienced and developed the inner resources to overcome? Who are you drawn to help? For example, as I looked back at some of my peak experiences throughout my career, I realized that some of the times that I experienced the greatest sense of “aliveness” was when I was coaching my people and saw a shift in their own sense of personal power.

2. Define Your Leadership Legacy. What is the lasting impact you would like to leave in this assignment? In your career? In your life? What would the ideal world look like if you were in charge? How would you like your contributions to be remembered? I always thought that one of my biggest impacts when I was running our company’s business in Mexico was how we were able to triple the rate of innovation in the business, or significantly grow the profits. I was surprised to realize that that’s not what people remember. What they remember is the work we did to make the organization culture more engaging. For me, the example of a perfect world is where everyone is reaching our potential as human beings by truly connecting the work we do with their personal sense of purpose.  This is what differentiates transformational leaders from transactional leaders.

3. Articulate Your Personal Brand. Purpose is an aspect of your personal brand. A personal brand is your unique essence and impact in the world. Proactively articulating our personal brand helps us be more inspired and accountable of our leadership impact. Once we articulated it, it’s important to link it with the mission and role we play in our organization. For example, I have articulated my personal brand as “helping women to realize their potential to be transformational leaders”.

I wish you great luck. Connecting to purpose is not an easy journey but it is definitely a worthwhile one. I would welcome connecting with you on your journey to be a more authentic and purposeful leader.

If this resonated for you please comment, subscribe and share with others.

Additional Resources:

To work with me to develop your purpose statement – 1 on 1 Exec Coaching Session

To Unleash Employee Engagement “Make It Personal

Find Purpose Where You’re Planted

How Purpose Drives Profits 

Showing 3 comments
  • Dr. Chris J. Anderson

    Thank you! It is not enough to want to change or to need to change, we must experience change! While said in many different ways, the foundation remains that a clear vision and purpose results in attainment of goals. Ideally, those goals are honorable and the purpose is to make better possible. “…In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. But someone will say, ‘You have faith; I have deeds.’ Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds” (James 2:17-18).

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