C-Suite Advisory

The Importance Of Purpose In Good Leadership

The world is littered with altruistic vision statements. We marvel at gold-embossed motherhood statements hanging in boardrooms. We pick up full-colour, good quality brochures stacked in reception lounges depicting rich organisational stories. Brand consultants invoice tens of thousands of dollars to help HR directors and senior management teams discover themselves.  Advertisers flaunt succinct taglines full of client-friendly buzz words.

But despite all this, there are familiar, haunting questions that linger for most people and culture managers, and team leaders. Long after organisational missions have been launched and innovative product campaigns have finished, they ask themselves reflective questions like:

Who are we really? Why do we exist?

What are we called to do? What is our best contribution?

Where can we make the greatest impact?

What is it that only we can do? How are we unique?

These most basic questions help to define an organisation’s true purpose. But, they are deceptively difficult to answer.

Leadership Fundamentals.

Ancient literature reminds us that without a vision, people perish.

Vision is one of the indispensable qualities of a leader. It’s often what differentiates one from a manager. Setting organisational direction, gaining the commitment of your people, and facilitating change are the fundamental tenets of leadership influence.

For those who are unsure what their organisational purpose is, it’s a matter of discovering what is important to you and why. It’s not just about what you can do, but what you must do. It’s more than an idea, it’s a compulsion. Leading with purpose becomes a life of calling and conviction.

State Your Purpose Clearly.

There is no excuse for lacking absolute clarity on your distilled and specific purpose. Without such, you have no place leading.

Without clear and articulate intention, teams tend to thrash around in waves of indecision. They stumble through strategic objectives like a sleepwalker in the dark. The culture within the workplace becomes obscure and vanilla.

So, state your purpose clearly. Use as few words as possible. Keep it simple, transferable and memorable.

Own it collectively.

Once you have clear purpose, you must cast it convincingly to the masses.

People who lack clarity, soon after lack motivation. When goals and targets are vague, workers resort to structure, process, and bureaucracy as a form of substitute mission. People do things because they are told to… not because they inherently know why it is important. The means is elevated above the end.

High performing individuals start to grow weary. Efforts are made in vain. Team meetings become ineffectual. Soon enough, the organisation is without form and void of purpose. Nobody knows why they are there and to what greater good they are supposed to contribute.

While operating under the illusion of progress, the organisation very quickly becomes directionless. Without clear conviction of self-identity, everything stops. This is the end-stage of organisational identity crisis!

It’s no way for any organisation to be. At least, not your organisation.

Leaders inoculate their people against mindless activity by helping them individually and collectively owning the purpose statement. It must become part of the bedrock of the team culture, and the glue that holds them together.

Celebrate it sincerely.

And to reinforce what truly matters to an organisation, leaders choose to reward on purpose too.

At all times where possible, link your performance measures, KPIs, remuneration bonuses and cultural accolades to behaviour that supports the organisational mission. Don’t reward activity or results that does not directly and specifically align with your stated purpose. To do so would encourage more of the same that will distract and dilute your intentions.

Celebrate those who lead on purpose, making exemplars of them.

It’s your choice.

Helen Keller, born deaf, dumb and blind, is quoted as saying, “the only thing worse than being born blind would be to have sight without vision”.  Be defined as leader who knows their “why”. Live and lead with conviction. Develop the art of ‘seeing around corners’ and ‘over the hill’. People will follow those who carry an assurance about their purpose. Leaders with this distinction stand amongst the few.

Discovering this is not a light undertaking. It’s a process of personal reflection, corporate soul-searching, industry need-awareness, and asking the right questions. But it’s worth the pursuit.

As a leader of people and culture, you can’t afford not to do it.

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Jason T. Smith
Jason T. Smith is an award-winning business and health thought leader, and entrepreneur-of-the-year. He is the founder of the Back In Motion Health Group, the Iceberg Leadership Institute and the SOS Health Foundation. In his new book, Outside-in Downside-Up Leadership (Major Street Publishing $29.95) Jason shares how they found the sweet spot between authentic collaboration and the holy grail of peer accountability in their workplace.