Purpose Led Leadership

Why is it that we invest so much of our leadership capability at work but leave it at the office at the end of the day?  Why do we not bring the best of ourselves back into our home and our community? Are they not more enduring and more important than any role we play at the office? And what of personal leadership? Why do we not apply these same capabilities to ourselves and our own journey through life? Do we not need to have our own house in order to be at our best?

It matters not how strait the gate, how charged with punishments the scroll, I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul. 
— Invictus by William Ernest Henley

On a recent sailing sabbatical, I was inspired to write a personal manifesto on the topic of leadership. The result was the culmination of the things I have learnt, I admire in others and that I aspire to myself. What also became evident was what I consider to be a gap in the way we view leadership and in particular, the need to move from a narrow, work based view of leadership to a more holistic, integrated and life-purpose led model of leadership.

Where we go wrong:

In today’s society, leadership is focused on performance at work and concerned with activities which are designed to:

  • organise others
  • drive and manage performance
  • achieve a commercial or organisational goal.

As such, leadership is commonly transactional in nature and somewhat mercenary in that it’s only applied as a strategy to achieve performance (generally for someone else's benefit!).

In contrast, I believe there is a leadership vacuum in all aspects of life and as leaders we have a responsibility to fill that gap for the benefit of all. What follows is my personal manifesto on the topic which I've called Purpose Led Leadership.


Purpose Led Leadership

I believe that great leadership:

  • is about service. Leaders should not be concerned with "taking charge but taking care of those in our charge" (thank you Simon Sinek).  It is about building and developing individuals and teams to create something bigger and more enduring than ourselves.
  • should be practised at home first. So much writing, training and education is focused on organisational leadership and yet our role as a leader at work is one of the least permanent roles we’ll have. Our family and the communities within which we live are far more enduring than any team we may lead at work. They deserve the best of ourselves, not just what is left over at the end of the day.
  • needs to begin with great personal leadership. If we can’t lead ourselves, what right do we have to lead others? 
  • should be an expression of our individual purpose in the world. We need different types of leaders for different occasions and contexts. There is no one formula for leadership and in fact imitating the stereotypical leader is ingenuine. Instead, discover, recognise your own unique talent and role in the world and express it through leadership. Be your own brand of leader.

The qualities I admire and those I aspire to

  1. Self awareness: I need to understand the impact I have on others (good and bad) if I’m to serve them to the best of my ability.
  2. Self efficacy: you can’t expect others to believe in you if you don’t believe in yourself.
  3. Clarity of purpose: we all have a different role to play and a different set of strengths in life. We need to bring these to bear in the way that we exercise and express leadership.
  4. Clarity of goal: leadership, as the word implies, is about leading in a particular direction toward a particular goal. If you’re not clear on the destination, where are you leading them to?
  5. Authenticity: there’s no such thing as a leader for all occasions so don’t pretend to be one. Be yourself, admit your faults and ask for help. If you do, you’ll always be enough.
  6. Humility: there's no place for ego. It robs the people you serve from their opportunity to develop and shine.
  7. Selflessness: it’s never about you and in fact it can’t be if you want people to follow you.
  8. Confidence: there will be times when things get rough. Part of a leader's role is to be the rock, the constant that people can rely on.
  9. Courage: there are a lot of unknowns in life and there are a lot of unpleasant things that need to be faced.  As a leader you have to have the courage to face those fears and do it anyway.
  10. Motivation: you need to be able to build and mobilise a great team. To do this you have to be able to paint a compelling vision of the future, attract people to the cause and mobilise them all in the same direction. The most rewarding thing is to create a team and a momentum that endures after you've gone.

When Leadership Fails:

Even with the best of intentions, leaders can unwittingly fail their people because they're not getting the job done.  Here are some of the traps I've observed over the years which will let you and the team down.

Leadership fails when you:

  1. Focus on yourself and what you want
  2. Neglect your people
  3. Fail to create progress
  4. Breakdown, collapse or loose heart
  5. Are inconsistent or frequently change direction
  6. Disempower people by over managing or doing it yourself
  7. Fail to create a breakthrough. All efforts reach this point and the leader has to help the team push through it
  8. Fail to surround yourself with those who fill the gaps and compensate for your weaknesses
  9. Fail to build a high performing team
  10. Fail to manage performance
  11. Fail to address conflict constructively, if at all
  12. Can’t get out of the detail and obsess over the small stuff
  13. Fail to manage external stakeholders and gain support for your team
  14. Know everything, are not open to learning and can't hear what your team is saying
  15. Make bad decisions and fail to draw on the collective wisdom of the team

Perfecting the attributes of leadership however is only part of the job.  The other question to concern ourselves with is "where to apply purpose led leadership?"

The 4 Realms of Purpose Led Leadership

Somehow we've focused all of our education and leadership wisdom on the workplace, but how many leaders do we know, who are inspiring at work but who's personal life is falling apart?

I believe there are 4 realms of leadership which allow us to bring the very best of ourselves to the game in an integrated, authentic and holistic way.

Purpose Led Leadership a) starts with leadership of the self, b) prioritises leadership at home, c) serves the interest of the communities we are a part of and d) are excercised at work.

When anchored in an understanding of our purpose, our special gift or place in the world, we are able to express a unique brand of leadership in all areas of our life. This takes our performance to a whole new level which ultimately is more beneficial and rewarding for all.

    Leaders recognise the value of the journey is often greater than the prize. The destination is just the incentive for you to undertake the quest at all.
    — Matthew Dunstan


    Advice I would give my younger self

    Relax. You don’t need to be perfect and shouldn't pretend to be. Authenticity is more powerful than perfection.

    You don't need a title. Leadership is awarded by those who choose to follow you.

    Lead from behind.  Its just as important to support a leader as it is to be the leader. Leadership can and should be a collaboration of complementary minds.

    It's not about you. It’s about service, not about ego. Concern yourself with the fingerprint you leave behind, not the prizes that you take away.

    People have to want to be there. Keep it fun.  Life isn't really all that serious and even when you're working hard, there's no rule to say you can't have fun while you're doing it.


    Leaders have the potential to create a better world

    My personal aspiration is to create a better world by inspiring a better kind of leadership. I believe that together, we can have an amazing impact on the lives of the people we touch. In turn, they will go on to be amazing leaders in their own right.

    If you, like me aspire to be more of a Purpose Led Leader, then please sign the petition below. Together we can all leave a better fingerprint on the world around us.

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