Purpose is the most crucial aspect of leadership as it starts with leading oneself before leading others. Purpose is a foundational aspect thereby. There are five qualities in finding your purpose, all interrelated, awareness, respect, morality, vision, and understanding.
Whilst awareness enhances the quality of your decisions, respect ensures proper treatment of others, morality enables you to consider and deal with consequences of your decisions, your vision guides your path and attracts others to it and an understanding to help us adjust our directions if you find it’s becoming unfulfilling.
Purposeless living is an aimless drift with no satisfactory landing over time
When discussing leadership, the theme of the conversation is usually around profits, stakeholders, strategy, operations or expansion growth plans. We discuss the purpose of developing a new product, entering new marketplaces and building strategies to outbid competitors, however, all of these are strategic in their nature and related to an action, a process. We can agree that they’re all paramount for a successful leadership performance, but rarely do we dive deeper and discuss the very core of leading as a purposeful pursuit.
Most of us with ambitions for progress in life see ourselves as leaders, making leadership very near and dear to our self-image. Many of those who see leadership as a process believe leadership involves influence in groups with common goals. You could argue that this makes absolute sense, yes it does if you’re referring to leadership in a professional environment. However; leadership doesn’t always start in a professional environment before leadership can grow into a process of influencing others towards a common goal, it has to first emerge and mature internally and solidify our personal relationship as CEOs of ourselves by regularly strengthening our inner-connection so that we could stay in touch with our own sense of purpose. Once practiced effectively, self-leadership can be an appealing and very uplifting concept for self-motivation a path to rewarding performance results. This in return encourages us to analyse ourselves, define our inspirations, and achieve them with much bigger ambitions and drive.
Someone who engages in self-respect and self-control behavioural patterns in leading their own lives is usually admired by others and seen as a leader. You may decide to adopt those qualities, without that person formally leading you in a professional environment, yet he/she has already become a leader in your eye for wanting to imitate and follow their behavioural patterns. Despite not having a leadership title or even in a formal/professional setting, this person has started to lead you and you follow their leadership in leading your own life even. That person may not even know that he/she has followers and are therefore considered a leader.
Many of us can recall a ‘leader’ in a professional environment whom we didn’t have much respect for and often, they have acquired the formal leadership title as a result of corruption, family ties, favouritism or just pure luck. In most cases, these types of leaders’ performances are somewhat less than satisfactory. On the other hand, I’m certain most of us can also recall a ‘leader’ who we may have only crossed paths with during our lives for a brief moment who carried themselves with such dignity and sense of purpose that we were drawn into them and immediately wanted to approach them for mentorship, advice and following their footsteps.
Entrepreneurs, academics, psychologists, and even medical doctors claim that purpose is a goal, success, and life enhancer. At the opposite end of their observation they place their own finding, which leads to a disheartening realisation that not even 20% of today’s leaders are fully aware of their own individual purpose. Leaders generally know their organisation’s purpose very well, however that’s not the case at all when it comes to their personal purpose. With so few leaders being aware of their own self-purpose, it is not surprising to know that very few of them have an actual plan of action to achieve their own personal purpose. If we fail to identify and acknowledge our self-purpose, which is key to navigating the ever so complex world we live in today, we will certainly fail to develop and follow a plan to act on achieving our desired goals in life.
Purpose is therefore a personal spiritual phenomenon, that is deeply rooted and uniquely defines each of to help us achieve the sort of impact that we could otherwise only dream of. It is not what we do, but how and why we do it.
1 – Awareness
Good leaders don’t just focus on what’s in front of them, but also aware of their surroundings and the environment. A great businessman, remarkable leader and a Nobel peace prize winner, Muhammad Yunus was an economics professor at a University in Bangladesh. After regularly going for a walk in his village, near the University, he quickly became aware of poverty-stricken population in the village who would find it impossible to rise above the situation. After looking into this further and speaking to the community, Muhammad identified the root cause of the problems. Micropreneurs were barely earning enough to feed themselves and their families, let alone save anything and no bank was willing to lend them money as they were deemed far too risky. This left those poor micropreneurs in a never-ending cycle of pure survival and unable to come out of it. By becoming aware of this situation, he was able to identify and acknowledge the problem, which is usually half the solution. Then in 1976 he started Grameen bank, by initially lending out of his own pocket, and worked tirelessly towards making poverty history in the village initially then throughout Bangladesh. As of November 2019, it has 9.60 million members, 97 percent of whom are women, with over 2,500 branches providing services to over 80,000 villages. This success story would not have existed if it wasn’t for Muhammad’s awareness of his surroundings whilst taking a stroll in the village.
By expanding your awareness, you can identify opportunities and make decisions whilst bearing in mind its long-term consequences, without indulging yourself in behaviours that can cause conflict with your moral beliefs.
2 – Respect
Respect, a virtue, is seen as one of the core pillars of a purposeful leadership. When we respect someone, we are acknowledging their value to us and showing our appreciation towards them for whom and what they are. When leaders treat people in an equal and unbiased manner giving people a chance to learn, grow and be part of what they do – good stuff will start happening. Earning great deal of respect is not an easy task and can take a lifetime to achieve it by earning it, maintaining it and nurturing it. However; losing complete respect can happen over a split second and can take another lifetime to earn it back.
Respect others as you would like to be respected by them. This principle should guide your everyday actions, by setting an example. Focus on your purpose and mission with consistency, but leave your ego behind, a social mask we wear to play a role. Let go of worrying about getting the credit you deserve and how you’re perceived, those will come eventually, naturally. Being consisting helps people get to know you better, easier, and know exactly what to expect from you. Consistency will also help you ensure your words and actions align with a sense of responsibility and accountability.
Build respect into your everyday language and communication. How we say something and the tone we use is as important as the words we communicate – always keep it respectful and positive.
And it goes without saying, be trustworthy. Respect cannot be earned without trust.
3 – Morality
At work, or in fact in life, the pressure increases on us as we grow and take on more responsibilities and trying to make decisions that will result in the greatest support for success, be it financial or otherwise. However, we often find ourselves in situations where those decisions are contrary to our moral values. It is critical to be in touch with one’s values and beliefs, not only for the decisions we make but also for the direct and indirect consequences of those decisions we made. Quick methods to wealth, prestige, and power sometimes require us to take actions, which would go against our morals and subsequently our purpose. We, as humans, can easily lose touch with our purpose by becoming side-tracked with quick-wins and shortcuts to so-called ‘success’, therefore not considering the long term impact our decisions can have and asking ourselves whether decisions we make today, will keep us awake 10-15 years later and cause us problems with our conscience, that too when what’s in front of you is very lucrative and enticing today. Regardless of how lucrative a shortcut to success may be – morals is not something to even contemplate on compromising, because it is the right thing to do and the sustainable thing to do in defining and solidifying our purpose as leaders.
A sense of morality is achieved when a leader encompasses the following three levels:
1) Focusing on personal ethics, which encourages a leader to adopt ethically sound behaviours, in both personal and professional regards.
2) Focusing on the way a leader exercises his or her leadership, which can either pertain to the actual actions of the leader in his or her position, or the style the leader adheres to.
3) Focusing on the moral depth of the leadership that is exerted, whereby others are moved toward a common vision and how that can be achieved.
4 – Vision
Contestably, vision is one of the most compelling factors which distinguish a leader from a manager. Managers are usually described as people who are solely concerned with day-to-day operations and performance measures, whilst leaders as those who define the long-term strategy and direction. The ability to have and communicate a compelling vision is what distinguishes a transformational leader from transactional leader, which is also the key described as managers. Using a transactional approach, managers set objectives, whilst good leaders use transformational influence to entice others to follow suit. The inspirational strength of a good leader depends on their characteristics, leadership style and the context in which the vision is presented in. this set of dimensions has an interesting overlap with the three points mentioned above, under Morality.
When we understand that a vision requires insight into attaining future journeys towards success. Therefore, it becomes clearer that in order to define, develop and translate it into a plan, the purpose has to be clear. Some scholars argue that leaders’ sense of purpose starts with reflections on past experiences, which can lead to a vision that would inspire followers.
5 – Understanding
A good leader will always have the purpose in the back of their mind, regardless of what’s going on, and has to develop an ability to change direction or strategy when they find out that their initial set of directions did not serve its real purpose and adjust to new paths accordingly and swiftly to attain responsible goals. We’ve learnt that first and foremost leaders should lead themselves and be mindful of reasons for change of directions, achieved by always understanding the situation and its alignment with the purpose. Understanding is used here to have a sense of realisation on what’s at stake and what matters to the stakeholders.