We all know that leadership is something to be demonstrated through the right behaviours and not a position you are appointed to. Of course this is absolutely true and we have in every role of responsibility for others, the need for leadership. This call to responsibility cannot be neglected, rejected or avoided; it is your job.
There are many facets to this key role that determines the success or failure of not just teams but of organisations, cultures and countries. Each of which needs to be drawn upon and brought to the forefront of activity at the right moment.
There are three elements of leadership though I’d like to focus on in this short series. In my opinion these are the elements that have a significant impact on whether someone is valued as a true leader or purely is another link in the chain of command and organisation.
The real challenge is that very often these are the three which are least prevalent in a leadership population.The three areas I would like to focus on are energy, purpose and the ability to make wise decisions. Each of these elements should always include engagement of our people – that goes without saying. If we don’t take people along with us, then unfortunately we are merely a beacon of light, so dull that it leaves those we lead in uncertainty and darkness with a lack of clarity about who they are working for and how they can really add value.
In my previous post, I focused on energy.
My focus this time will be on purpose.
Creating a purpose as a leadership responsibility
“People work hard for money, harder still for good leaders, but hardest of all if they believe in a cause”.
Yes, being a great leader is a hugely important part of your role, but lose your ego and don’t kid yourself; ultimately it’s not about you, it is about the cause. As leaders we are merely facilitators and enablers towards a compelling purpose that inspires hearts, minds and provides focus every single day.
There are a myriad of example organisations, and indeed individuals, who have fallen at that challenging hurdle of ultimate success, when they have lost sight of the purpose for which they began that journey along with their energy and passion.
So, how do we really create the “cause” mentality? We can impose it; we can’t just communicate it but we must discover it. If we don’t then the results of our teams’ efforts will only ever be as good as us – and believe me they are always capable of much more!
This is the second in this series of three considering often forgotten or overlooked skills of great leadership. In the first piece I focused on energy and how critical it is. As I commented, how on earth can we expect our team members to have the energy and focus we need from them if we cannot energise ourselves. This time let’s be really clear about what we mean by a purpose, why it’s important and how we discover it.
What does it mean to have a “purpose”?
At the root of each of us as diverse human beings who have different tastes, preferences, pet likes and dislikes we actually at our very core have much in common. This is aligned to our human hierarchy of needs (Abraham Maslow) and starts with the security and safety, through to light, shelter, food, water and on to our feelings of self-worth and our interactions with others. The highest need that we journey towards is self-actualisation. Those things provoke us to put in the effort, strive for more and fulfill us.
If we explore our human needs, we have so much in common. So much to celebrate and so much to enjoy together. We learned in part one of this series of the power provided by personal purpose, aspirations and how this is a catalyst to energy.
How do we engage others in a common purpose when we are so diverse, or so it seems. One of the best speakers I have seen address this topic in a simple and effective way is Simon Sinek (author of the book – Start with Why). He suggests that all leaders and organisations are clear about what they do and many are clear about how they do it, their method or process that gives them advantage or simple success. But very few are clear about why they do what they do. Simon goes on to say that it’s not to make a profit. Profit, or commercial success, is a consequence, not the purpose.
So let’s take this a little further by sharing an example. I have been working quite a bit with banks and other financial institutions for a while now and this has been a real opportunity to challenge thinking about why they exist. This has been even more of a challenge due to both the accurate and inaccurate media coverage, which has coloured the view of them.
So why does a bank exist? Why do the relationship managers, the counter staff, the bankers really exist? Ultimately it’s to ask us good questions, provide us information and perspective to help us make very good decisions for our financial futures, and ideally help us protect those plans to ensure we see them into fruition.
In simple terms, banks are there to help us make the very best decisions for ourselves and our families, realising the financial decisions we make today can significantly impact our future generations. That’s it. They are not there to sell anything. They are not there to persuade. They exist to enable. The most successful organisations of the future will be those who can do this with the greatest authenticity and integrity. We can get the vast majority of any information we need via the Internet. We need someone to help us process that data in a way that benefits us as the client.
So let’s think about that as a purpose. To help us, as customers, make great decisions to achieve our aspirations. Now not only could I as a bank employee align with that cause and purpose …even the customer themselves could.
Steve Jobs original purpose was to change the way we interface with technology. Did he achieve it?
Yes. James Dyson’s purpose was to solve the unsolvable. Did each of them have 100% success along the way? No. But they enabled enough people to connect with their purpose to help them ultimately succeed by bringing together different skills to achieve phenomenal results. Let’s be clear, that they may not have needed other innovators in their team, but they may have needed financial expertise, programme management skills, great engineers or technicians. But the success really comes when all of these disciplines are united in that common cause and purpose.
Why is it so important for you to have a purpose, as a leader?
We have already spoken about the unifying elements of having a purpose. The fact then when we are aiming for the same thing our individualities, preferences and nuances can become dynamic and value adding rather than destructive. But let’s talk about you, as a leader. What’s your purpose? Do you know? Have you shared it? Have you invited others to be involved in it through discovering your common cause?
If you are clear about your purpose, it will have a significant impact on others desire and willingness to want to engage with you and be led by you.
Over the years I have observed the most impactful leaders in the most successful businesses in the world and have identified that there is “something” about them. A presence or aura about them that attracts and engages others to want to listen and want to be involved in whatever it is that’s important to them. It almost seems intangible, but maybe it’s not. There are in fact six things that are always consistent in each of them. I have tested my observation with thousands of people over the years and they have been validated every time:
- They are in control but not controlling – They leave you to choose. They don’t control you but they are in control of themselves and there is a clear invitation to follow them. To work alongside them
- They are confident but not arrogant – Confidence becomes arrogance when we reject or neglect the value of contribution of others. They are really interested in what you can bring to the conversation but are confident in their own value as well
- They are considered – They have thought about your needs, their audience, their team and their followers. They think carefully about you and what might be on your mind, in your world and challenging for you
- They have strong communication skills – They tend to communicate in manageable segments on key messages rather than long ramblings. They pause to give you space to consider, reflect, digest and personalise the message
- They emotionally connect – They use stories, anecdotes and examples that relate to your world and apply to your contextual position. You feel they are on the same page as you
- They do all of these things with real passion – Their passion is their “Why,” their “purpose”, an inner belief that drives them beyond typical activity, focus or contribution.
The first five of these qualities can be developed; they can be taught and improved. However the sixth one, ”passion”, is that purpose that cannot be developed. It must be discovered. Qualities one to five are the methods by which you introduce and engage your purpose (your passion), but ultimately it will be your passion that they commit to. It will be the thing that provokes them to engage beyond their typical activity, focus and contribution.
If you feel that you don’t have that presence that you feel is important for a senior leader, discover your passion, your cause.
If your team don’t seem really engaged, discover your common cause.
If you are struggling with another function, discover your common cause together. If you just want to enjoy work and life even more, discover your common cause.
How do we discover our collective purpose?
Remember this is a journey of discovery and it is incredibly rare to reach the destination of this journey in one meeting. Having done this many times with many teams, it is as they go back to their work and see how they feel about the words they have begun to explore that that really start to know.
There are some keys inputs that can help:
- Help your team understand what a purpose is. This can be by watching a clip like Simon Sinek – Start with Why. Or talk about the purpose statements of other organisations or teams and consider carefully how the language reflects belief of value and contribution
- Challenge your initial thoughts. Typically your initial thoughts around purpose will align more with being the “What you do” or the “How you do it” rather than the “Why”. It’s what we are used to
- As you start to refine your thoughts, dig a little deeper by asking questions like: For what ultimate purpose?
- Live with the words you have used to describe your purpose for a week or two and see how you feel. See what you discover as you keep this as your ultimate focus. Share it with some key stakeholders or customers who you trust to provide view and feedback
As leaders we often get too busy ‘doing the do’ and coordinating activity that we sometimes forget to align purpose. If we create that common, compelling purpose it is actually much, much easier to achieve all the other coordination and activity that is needed. Your team will know the goal and will make far better decisions about what they do to make it all happen.
Rise to the challenge leaders. Don’t just lead by activity; engage your heart, your emotion, your passion.
Next in the series I will focus on how we help our teams make great decisions that are wise and valuable without us having to be involved at every point, every time – read part three here.