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.