Wednesday, March 17, 2010

What Makes a Purpose-driven Leader?

Purpose is an ephemeral word that is often misheard to mean some sort of pre-ordained master-plan that a creator or force has in store for us. Although there may be some degree of truth in that, such assertions are beyond the scope of this article.

The purpose I speak of is functional, practical, intelligent and most of all, strategic. So far, so good; all terms we can comfortably toss around in any MBA program. But it’s not the whole story; purpose does have an element of a “higher calling” which must be investigated and uncovered on some-level before the more functional-based interpretations can reach their full potential.

When one dissects the anatomy of purpose-Integration a bit more thoroughly, one will discover it did not originate in structures and systems, business plans or marketing plans, performance reviews or salary contracts; it originated within the mind and/or heart of a human being. A person. A life! And, as part of the human species, I feel, and many concur, that there is some “purpose” that we hope to actualize. A vision, if you will. For some, it is clearer than others, but for virtually all of us it is not completely dormant.

For reasons I understand more each day but cannot explain fully, successful leaders have found a way for that purpose to emerge strongly enough that it guides their actions and decisions towards the emergence and integration of a vision. How does that happen? The specifics will reveal many different approaches, such as seminars, conferences, coaches, mentors, teachers, journaling, meditation, nature expeditions, and perhaps most important, time. But there are some commonalities among successful professionals and leaders:

• They are willing, even hungry, to discover who they are.
• They are courageous enough articulate the outer-edge of their own realization to others and back it up with action.
• They make one thing most important rather than everything or many things.
• They are willing to endure the discomfort of isolation, confusion, doubt and absence of immediate results.
• They recognize even small doses purpose-driven success and work hard to replicate that success.
• None of them—none—laugh or balk at the importance of personal development and self-awareness.

The beginning of purpose-integration begins at the level of self, integrating our own awareness with the mental objects we call thoughts, plans, road-maps, strategies, outcomes, etc… Without this, of course, success is still possible; however, it is often derived from chance opportunities that accumulate short-term rewards, accolades, fame, and other conditional and volatile measures of success we often look towards for indicators of how well we are doing in life or business.

The responsible caretaker of purpose-integration measures success on the level of integrity and alignment between what they are observing or experiencing and what they know to be true. When this level of awareness, or consciousness, is weak, the leader’s propensity to integrate purpose diminishes accordingly. When it is strong, the leader can return to the purpose again and again without being distracted by the discomforts of setbacks or the absence of short-term conventional “success” indicators that may appease others.

After all, leaders are leading, and purpose-driven leaders understand, even anticipate, the isolation that may accompany being ahead of the curve. They will stand out and often alone for quite some time, until others catch-up. They gain the confidence and stamina to endure criticism, confusion, and general uncertainty to allow for the time necessary for purpose to gel into something concrete enough for others to pick-up on and support.

And where did this Herculean strength come from? Passion! When one is on-purpose, passion fuels the journey.

I have seen time and again how successful leaders keep their purpose close at-hand at all times. When they are jolted off-course, purpose brings them back. When competing values are at-play or gut-wrenching decisions need to be made, purpose makes it a no-brainer. And when people around them begin to “get it” and become inspired, throwing their support and resources behind the leader, purpose can be readily found in the new DNA of everyone onboard.

At this point, the systems, structures and other critical elements of purpose-integration can effectively strut their stuff. And if you look carefully at the anatomy of successful purpose-integration—at what has been coursing through the veins of organizational structures, systems and communication channels—you will find purpose to be ever-present. Even if it is an unconscious purpose, or a an ego-driven fear-based purpose, its propagation is being facilitated by the systems and structures in-place. Therefore, it is paramount to ensure the highest quality purpose goes into the systems and structures that permeate the entire system and all its people and decisions.

The purpose-driven leader knows this and recognizes the enormous impact it can have. For this very reason, much of the leader's attention focuses inward, integrating their own awareness with the core purpose at all times to produce a vision and strategy of highest integrity, then speak and act with maximum conviction and alignment to integrate their purpose into the world, and thereby realize a part of their purpose for being here.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Courage is Not Comfortable; but Comfort Can Be Worse

At first blush, I was tempted to leave Courage out of a leadership model I developed in 2009, because it felt too “emotional.” However, the objectivity of observation made it clear that Courage was essential to the success of Master Integrators of a key vision and absent in those cases where Vision Integration was low. At the end of the day it is merely a matter of physics; an absence of Courage leads to a dilution of the Vision, whereas its presence strengthens it. It is beyond clich├ęs or opinion, it is as it is, an observable result of cause and effect.
Courage is not comfortable. Unfortunately, we live in a society that places comfort above all else. We work for the weekend, early retirement and summers off. Nice homes, bigger homes, plush cars and Heavenly Beds at the Westin. I have nothing against these, per se; but left in the realm of the unconscious, we are easy pray to the siren’s call for comfort. Advertising and so-called market forces perpetuate the message that suffering can, and should, be alleviated. We are bombarded by images of smiles, success and happiness in 30-second sound bites and overpromising self-help methods (including my profession, coaching) that hold out the carrot of perpetual comfort.
As a by-product, our capacity, let alone our desire, for discomfort significantly suffers (ironically, increasing suffering itself). In fact, discomfort is so loathed in our society that we often ingest our own discomfort as a sign of “failure.” Marital problems, a downturn in sales, a state of confusion: these are all precursors to embarrassment and self-deprecation. When success doesn’t simply “flow” or we are not “in the zone,” we beat ourselves up, thinking there is something wrong with us and look for a way out as quickly as possible.
Nothing could be further from truth—or practicality.
Master Integrators of their own vision accept the discomfort of integration. Without apology, they endure uncertainty, confusion and fear itself, to stay the course. A course whose destination they “know” without knowing the course itself. A knowledge they continue to cultivate through more refined levels of Awareness and Discipline. The joy of honoring this “knowing” surpasses the short-term roadblocks and inconveniences of discomfort. This is Courage. And this is perhaps the make-or-break quality of a Master Integrator.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010


(in collaboration with John Frost, Director, Values Based Leadership Ltd., United Kingdom)

Patrick Lencioni’s popular leadership model, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, is brilliant in its simplicity and comprehensiveness, allowing team-members to get onto the same page easily and begin using common language around team development. As a result, team-members can quickly begin developing the functional elements of Lencioni’s model, namely Trust, Conflict, Commitment, Accountability and Results, respectively. Lencioni suggests that each element serves as a pre-requisite for the next, and the absence or avoidance of any element invites dysfunction into the team.

Unfortunately, like any other model or remedy, it is not entirely prescriptive; much depends on the patient.

One of the key learnings from working with individuals and teams over the years is that leadership initiatives fail when the leader does not walk-the-talk around their team’s core-values. During the offsite, many teams do good work, going beyond comfort-zones, building alignment and committing to forward progress.

Then something happens. Or more accurately, it doesn’t.

There is considerable variance in post-offsite results and effectiveness among teams. Why is this? There may be a host of variables at-play, however, none more important than the leader’s ability to follow-through and walk-the-talk.

Quite frankly, if the leader’s commitment to team-values is weak or non-existent, the benefits of Lencioni’s model (or any other model for that matter) will evaporate rapidly. Lencioni, himself, says: “Teamwork is extremely hard to achieve. It can’t be bought, and it can’t be attained by hiring an intellectual giant from the world’s best business school. It requires levels of courage and discipline—and emotional energy—that even the most driven executives don’t always possess.”

Values-based leadership can go a long way in strengthening a leader’s commitment and accelerating the benefits of Lencioni’s model around The Five Dysfunctions of a Team. Here, we’ll have a quick look at these five dysfunctions (given below, according to Lencioni) and add a few words on why values matter to the removal of each dysfunction.

Dysfunction #1: Absence of Trust: Members of great teams trust one another on a fundamental, emotional level, and they are comfortable being vulnerable with each other about their weaknesses, mistakes, fears, and behaviors. They get to a point where they can be completely open with one another, without filters.

Why values matter: Leaders who have high-levels of adherence to their core values have very little difficulty being vulnerable, a pre-requisite for trust, according to Lencioni. For a team to feel safe enough for vulnerability, it must be modeled by the team leader; otherwise, the perceived risk is too high and defensiveness (or filters) will also be high, while trust remains low.

Dysfunction #2: Fear of Conflict: Teams that trust one another are not afraid to engage in passionate dialogue around issues and decision that are key to the organization’s success. They do not hesitate to disagree with, challenge, and question one another, all in the spirit of finding the best answers, discovering the truth, and making great decisions.

Why values matter: When team values are clear, and the team is confident that the leader stands behind them, there is a greater willingness to enter into conflict, because team-members know they will eventually return to their core-values in moving forward. The exploration that emerges through conflict is anchored in meaningful, relevant principles that support the team’s mission and transcend the turbulence of emotional discussions. Without core-values in place, conflict is feared or misused, for the outcome is often determined by the loudest or most persuasive voice, rather than by alignment to core values.

Dysfunction #3: Lack of Commitment: Teams that engage in unfiltered conflict are able to achieve genuine buy-in around important decisions, even when various members of the team initially disagree. That’s because they ensure that all opinions and ideas are put on the table and considered, giving confidence to team members that no stone has been left unturned.

Why values matter: Again, values anchor heated discussions and varying opinions, allowing the dust to settle around previously agreed-upon values. The team’s core-values provide a litmus test for new commitments, generating alignment, consistency and leverage. Moreover, team members are more likely to test-drive initiatives they may have initially disagreed with if they know the core-values will not be compromised.

Dysfunction #4: Avoidance of Accountability: Teams that commit to decisions and standards of performance do not hesitate to hold one another accountable for adhering to those decisions and standards. What is more, they don’t rely on the team leader as the primary source of accountability, they go directly to their peers.

Why values matter: When a team has a clear, solid set of values in-place, backed by the actions and behaviours of the team-leader, it instills a sense of objective standards and guidelines for individual accountability. In particular, when certain values have standards of performance built into them, accountability becomes part of the team’s DNA, reinforced over time, project after project, challenge after challenge.

Dysfunction #5: Inattention to Results: Teams that trust one another, engage in conflict, commit to decisions, and hold one another accountable are very likely to set aside their individual needs and agendas and focus almost exclusively on what is best for the team. They do not give-in to temptation to place their departments, career aspirations, or ego-driven status ahead of the collective results that define team success.

Why values matter: Values clearly and consistently define “what is best for the team,” leaving little or no room for ego. If the team and its leader build a proven track-record for making values more important than any one project, complaint, career or department, then values-based results are likely to be the dominant force at-work. When core-values are clear and consistent, the group can refer to the same playbook, keeping selfish individual motives in-check, allowing collective results to emerge.

Patrick Lencioni’s model on The Five Dysfunctions of a Team has become extremely popular worldwide, because it is intuitive and easy to comprehend. However, comprehension, alone, will not suffice. Without a solid grounding in core-values, and consistent, courageous leadership that ensures their relevance at all times, dysfunctional teams will continue to scratch their heads, going from one leadership model to the next, offsite after offsite, wondering what it will take to finally create a highly functioning team.

Values do not merely exist on their own, offering some magical manifestation of team functionality. Values integration is challenging, and it is mostly in the hands of the team leader. It takes awareness, discipline and courage to be the responsible caretaker of team values:

Awareness: When a leader remains ignorant about their team’s values and how they relate to themself, their team and the situation, much is left to chance. The result is often an endless series of one-off conversations and confrontations, relying more on opinion and persuasion than consistent values being integrated over time.

Discipline: When a leader is not consciously and consistently aligning resources, including people’s time and attention, with core-values, decisions tend to be made on a case-by-case basis, depleting energy, motivation and efficiencies that come from reliably integrating core-values over time.

Courage: When a leader does not bring courage to defend team values during opposition from team members, other constituents or challenging circumstances, the integrity of those values weakens, diluting their power and credibility with each passing incident. Before long, the core-values erode to mere words on a paper, unable to guide the team forward, or counter the impact of Lencioni’s five dysfunctions.

The magic of values integration is not hocus-pocus; it’s hocus-focus. There are no shortcuts or lottery tickets—either the team and, most importantly, its leader, walk-the-talk around values, or the talk takes a walk—and dysfunction takes its place.