Purpose. It’s a big word used often in the world of business.
The best companies are galvanized by a strong sense of purpose, a driving force that goes beyond the bottom-line, to making the world a better place. And many times, this sense of purpose originates from the CEO or founder of a company.
Here’s the curious thing: even though many senior leaders demonstrate a sense of purpose, it doesn’t always trickle down to leaders at other levels. Why is this the case?
I believe many of these leaders have simply not spent enough time thinking about and defining their purpose. Still others may feel a sense of purpose, but do not know how to apply it in a practical manner in their leadership role.
To dig deeper into the whole idea of purpose, a few months ago I sat down with Dan Pontefract, fellow leadership geek and author of two great books: Flat Army and his newest called The Purpose Effect. Pontefract has spent a lot of time thinking about purpose and how leaders can put their own sense of purpose into action.
Through his practice and research, he has found that leaders who have a good sense of purpose professionally and personally, tend to lead more fulfilling and meaningful lives. And that as a result, Pontefract asserts, these leaders can contribute more to society as a whole. “Many leaders are potentially overlooking the significance of purpose to not only making our organization’s stronger but improving our world as well.”
To truly understand what it means to be a purpose-driven leader, we need to understand that there are three levels at which purpose must be defined: personal, organizational, and our specific role within that organization. Let’s look at each of them more closely.
First, at a personal level, purpose can be defined as those things that motivate us on a day-to-day basis. It encompasses our values, experiences and beliefs, and helps to inform our personal decisions and actions. As I thought more about this I came up with some reflective questions for my own leadership role:
- What is really important to me?
- What values define the decisions I make as a leader?
- What does it mean for me to be a leader and what is fundamentally core to my leadership?
At an organizational level, Pontefract believes purpose answers an important question: why does this organization actually exist? An organization’s principles, ethics and culture all serve to inform the way it operates day to day. It explains why the organization exists in the first place. Now, think about your current organization: to what extent is it clear on why it exists? Do you bring this clarity to those that you lead?
Finally, Pontefract also believes that purpose must be used to define our roles within organizations. Do you know why your role exists? Are you merely filling a spot on an organizational chart, or adding real value in your day-to-day work? Even someone with a strong personal sense of purpose can be undone if they occupy a job that is aimless.
The Sweet Spot
Finally, Pontefract noted that these three elements cannot exist in isolation, but rather work in concert with each other. “If a leader wants to leverage the power of purpose, they must enact it in all these three categories. And if she’s able to do this, she will achieve what I refer to as the sweet spot. This in turn results in one have a sense of higher calling in one’s work,” he said.
Possessing this “higher calling” helps to drive us to be all that we can be. More importantly, that sense of purpose can be endearing and contagious. It will encourage the people we lead to become more committed, driven, and feel as though they are an integral part to the success of the organization.
This week’s gut check asks: are you driven by a compelling purpose?