Becoming A Purpose-driven Leader

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LEADERSHIP INSPIRATIONS FOR EXCELLENCE (LIFE) SERIES

What separates the best leaders from the rest? What do they have that trumps up their success? Is it knowledge? Motivation? Money? Great leadership begins on the inside of every person. It begins with discovering our life’s purpose!

Purpose is that deepest dimension within us that tells us who we are, where we came from, why we are here, and where we are going. If you are not fired up and energised about something you deeply care about, then most likely people will not follow. The passion in you is the power that will elevate the world to a better place. When a leader has a compelling purpose, the people around him want to become a part of the inspiring mission to change lives.

Leaders who are purpose-driven are on a life-long quest to be connected with something larger than their own life. Bill Gates did not start Microsoft to become the richest man in the world. He saw the potential of personal computers to transform the lives of many people. He was determined to create a software that would make them useful for every person in the world. He followed his passion and purpose and, in the process, became the richest man in the world. That was the outcome, not the goal. His purpose was to change how we live.

Steve Job’s vision was not to make a load of money and retire rich one day. Steve Job’s purpose was to help people unleash their creativity. He wanted to enrich people’s lives. He was passionate and had a purpose to enrich people’s lives through the products that Apple created. He wanted people to be connected to an experience, whether it was a phone or a computer. When we live on purpose we make decisions and choices to live a life of legacy.

In the book, Good to Great by Jim Collins, surveying several companies in different industries, the author makes the case that Level 5 leaders were building teams around a common vision and purpose.  These companies went beyond the purpose of making money and meeting the shareholders expectations. They found a higher calling and purpose by changing the world through their services and contribution. Purpose was more important that profits.

Happiness at work illustrates that personal job satisfaction is closely linked to feeling like we are on a path to a higher purpose, or that we’re doing something that we really believe in.

Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos.com and author of “Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion and Purpose, says that, “When people do something that actually contributes to a higher purpose that they really believe in, research has shown that this actually is the longest lasting type of happiness.”

So how can you become a purpose-driven leader?

Purpose is on the inside – Connect with your heart first and be authentic about what is it that you want to help people about? It doesn’t have to be a big cause. When you have a clear purpose, you can articulate it to others with fire and passion. You feel good and energised about who you are as a human being.

Choose a purpose that is bigger than yourself – Having a purpose that can be compelling and encourage participation on the part of the followers is something that Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon.com says, “Choose a mission that is bigger than the company.”

Create value for people – Great leaders have something in common. They focus on adding value to whatever their passion and purpose is. When you can add value to people’s lives, whether through a product or service, their lives becomes more meaningful and in some respect better than they were yesterday.

Nothing is ever the same once you tap into your life’s purpose and your leadership calling.  You begin to sense higher positivity and energy that you thought did not exist in you. Life becomes truly fulfilling and rewarding.

The misunderstood art of leading

Linda Hill, the Wallace Brett Donham Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School, is a champion of leadership through empowerment. Her work focuses on leaders who have excelled by enabling others to do the doing. In other words, if you seek professorial wisdom, vocal displays of assertiveness are not necessarily leadership. Her work on Nelson Mandela’s leadership style highlights her research-based beliefs that in the business world, too, there are countless benefits to viewing leadership as a collective activity. So do her insights on the stealth leaders within organisations – those unheralded members of the rank-in-file who take charge of key initiatives. Hill’s latest book, “Collective Genius: The Art and Practice of Leading Innovation”, makes a fascinating argument that Hill has made before: namely, that to lead innovation, you should not view leadership as a take-charge, bull-by-the-horn-grabbing activity. Instead, your job should be to create, populate, and inspire a flexible ecosystem, in which employees feel comfortable proposing radical ideas and challenging long-held corporate beliefs.

Find the strengths of your culture

For example, there’s a change-management myth that tends to inflate the roles of leaders. The myth generally involves a super-leader, imported from another company, arriving and making wholesale changes which produce demonstrable wins in the first 100 days.

From my experience, that type of top-down approach isn’t the best way to motivate employees to do what innovation requires. The best way, is to tap into emotions those employees already feel. Those emotions could lie in a product’s quality, or in the overall role a company plays on the world’s stage. Regardless of what those emotions are, the most important thing a leader can do – early on in a change-management initiative – is discover where those emotions and pride-points lie and connect with employees through these points.

There is also need for paradigm shift from change-management concept to leading change. While the former is a reaction to change, leading change is proactive and more productive in releasing the energies of the workforce.

Using people’s talents

Using what he learnt, De Meo was able to make his branding goals less of a top-down initiative and more of a community-based desire, built around a mutual sense of purpose. He did this in two ways: (1) He directly involved employees in the creation of a centralised brand; (2) he tied the importance of creating a centralised brand to the pride-points of quality engineering and the auto industry. Specifically, he did this by organizing a massive three-day off-site devoted to brainstorming about the brand. Instead of PowerPoint presentations, the off-site – held at a Frank Gehry-designed building in Berlin — was more like a design lab, filled with prototyping, testing, and most of all, discussing and arguing across the rank and file.

De Meo recalled it as “artwork everywhere, loud rock music signaling transitions between activities, snapshots showing the history of the automotive industry mixed in with conversations about the future of mobility.”

You can see how this approach would engage employees who were already prideful about their industry and their product. And there was another piece of the engagement too: De Meo’s inclusive approach made branding something the entire company was involved in. Employees were creatively collaborating, brainstorming, and participating, rather than responding to just another mandate from “those big guys on top in Wolfsburg.”

Power of purpose

Generally, we don’t use people’s talents as fully as we can. By contrast, De Meo’s approach created a branding effort behind which a historically decentralised company found unity. He believes you build a brand from the inside out.

As for results, they were tangible: By the time De Meo left VW for Audi, the VW brand had risen in the ranking of all brands worldwide from 55th to 39th. Sixteen points jump! But more than this quantifiable accomplishment, De Meo had proven that real change can occur when you engage your employees on a personal level, and find out why your organisation (and its posterity) matters to them. VW became a textbook-worthy case of that easy-to-preach, hard-to-practice principle of purpose-driven, community-centric leadership.

Pharm. Lere Baale

Purpose – not the leader, authority, or power – is what creates and animates a community. It is what makes people willing to do the hard tasks of innovation together and work through the inevitable conflict and tension.

 

It was the German philosopher Frederick Nietzsche who observed that “he who has a why can endure any how”. Leaders who know their why are better able to navigate and achieve success in the fast changing and uncertain world of today. Consider some of the leaders of the past who persevered in the face of difficult circumstances. Leaders such as Nelson Mandela, Winston Churchill, Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jnr and so many others. These leaders connected to a purpose that matter to them. For Nelson Mandela, it was the liberation of the people of South Africa. For Winston Churchill, it was to prevent Hitler from conquering the world. The reason we remember these leaders was their commitment to a bold purpose. It’s this courage and commitment to a purpose that inspires us still today.

 

Whilst great leaders of times past were purpose-driven, it may surprise to know that many leaders today lack clarity of purpose. Research cited in the article “From Purpose to Impact” by Nick Craig and Scott A. Snook, found that fewer than 20 per cent of leaders have a strong sense of their own individual purpose. Even fewer can distill their purpose into a concrete statement. A number of African leaders lack clarity of purpose. These are the ones who indulge in attacking personalities rather than address the issues. Whilst leaders can identify the pain and problems that keep them up at night, very few are able to tell you what makes them get out of bed in the morning!

 

Lere Baale is a Director of Business School Netherlands, www.bsnmba.org and a Certified Management Consultant with Howes Group – www.howesgroup.com

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