Think about someone in your life who was an exceptional leader.
What made this person stand out in your mind as an exceptional leader? Most likely, this leader accomplished something noteworthy; an extraordinary action that you were able to witness. Many times we attribute exceptional leadership to the extraordinary results that were accomplished.
As we discovered previously, exceptional leaders do not focus on just the results they aim for. For great leaders, results come as an aftermath of focusing on a timeless purpose or worthy cause. That’s not to say that leaders do not want great things to happen. In fact, that is the contrary.
Exceptional leaders realize that when they passionately lead with purpose, and they effectively shares their dreams, extraordinary things can happen.
When examining further how great leaders inspire great action, we found that followers were motivated to greater extents and performed to higher levels when there existed an alignment or sharing of purpose. Furthermore, it was found that when leaders led from a strong sense of purpose (or cause), they found greater meaning in their work, had greater influence, and tended to perform to higher extents than those who did not.
Think about Martin Luther King, Abraham Lincoln, or Gandhi for instance. These men led extraordinary causes, which ended up changing ideas, people, and society forever. What did these men have in common? Well, they led with purpose, had a powerful vision, and then extraordinary action took place.
A prominent author on the subject of purpose, Nikos Mourkogiannis (2007), outlines that purpose is the starting point for great leadership. “Whether that is shareholders, board members, or constituents, finding and fulfilling a purpose that fits the identify of the organization is the foundation and starting point for greatness.”
Furthermore, Mourkogiannis (2007) states that, “when a company is driven by a shared purpose, its morale will be higher, the quality of innovation will improve, its internal and external relationships will be strengthened, and its leaders will be able to point the way forward with conviction.”
The topic of purpose is also a constant strand in Transformational Leadership expert James MacGregor Burns’ (1978) writing who says; “there is nothing so power-full, nothing so effective, nothing so causal as common (or shared) purpose . . . leadership is nothing if not linked to collective purpose”.
Lastly, emotional Intelligence experts and authors, Richard Boyatzis, Annie McKee, and Daniel Goleman (2002) also highlight that “leaders cannot keep achieving new goals and inspiring the people around them without understanding the meaning of their own dreams.”
It is the constant of purpose, meaning, and timeless vision that seem to propel exceptional leaders to produce extraordinary action in their organizations and through their people.
As a leader, it is quite clear that understanding these concepts of purpose has tremendous benefit for your leadership, your team, and your organization. Exceptional action is possible when you lead from a strong purpose, and communicate a powerful, contagious vision.
The question is, will you take the time to find your purpose?
Boyatzis, R., McKee, A., & Goleman, D. (2002). Reawakening your passion for work. Harvard Business Review, 80(4), 86-94.
Burns JM. (1978). Leadership. New York, NY: Harper & Row.
Mourkogiannis, N.,. (2007). Purpose: The starting point of great leadership. LTL Leader to Leader, 2007(44), 26-32.
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You will find many definitions for what exceptional leadership looks like. In fact, exceptional leadership can often times be relative to the environment of the leader. However, I have noticed that there seems to be three trends which are present with exceptional leadership. First, exceptional leadership begins with a Purpose, being the foundation. Second, exceptional leaders have a timeless Vision, or communicating dreams into reality, and third exceptional leaders inspire great Action, which are the results of a purpose being fulfilled through a timeless vision.
I would like to take a few moments to talk about what Purpose in leadership looks like:
Having a well defined Purpose is a critical foundation for exceptional leadership. Purpose is defined as “the reason for which something is done or created or for which something exists”. In other words, this is your “WHY”. When you relate purpose to yourself or to your leadership, the question is “WHY” are you here? “WHY” do you even bother? “WHY” do you lead? The answer to this questions is far beyond just making money, or having a secure job. We are not talking about management, this is exceptional leadership. Exceptional leaders are compelled by something greater that just monetary gain. Exceptional leaders are compelled by a clear, well define Purpose.
To expand further, exceptional leaders possess three key elements when it comes to purpose: (1) a greater than average sense of purpose in life and meaning; resulting from a heightened level of self-awareness, (2) a strong understanding of what their organization’s purpose is and, (3) a belief that they are fulfilling their purpose in life which fits with the identity of the organization they are leading.
Without having a clear understanding of your purpose in life, you will not be able to grow to the most exceptionally leader that you could be. Let me give you a few examples; Martin Luther King, Abraham Lincoln, Steven Jobs, Ghandi, Mother Teresa and countless other authentic leaders were each driven by a deep understanding of what they or their organization was trying to do. They were led by their deep sense of purpose, which was communicated through their vision, and put into action by their decisions.
The first step for taking your leadership to the next level, and even understanding “WHY” you yourself exists, is defining your purpose in life.
This past year, I began a new journey in my life when I started my doctoral program in organizational leadership. As I interacted with other leaders from across the country, I ran into a powerful idea … Purpose. Throughout my coursework, I grappled with and researched further as to what purpose meant for leadership. My results were compelling, almost all of the leaders I perceived to be exceptional, had a well defined purpose in life. Furthermore, their purpose was timeless and was not motivated by extrinsic rewards (such as money, recognition, or power).
What I also found to be interesting was; Leaders who lead with a strong purpose, and also aligned to the organization’s mission that they lead, tend to perform to greater extents than others that do not.
Praying through these ideas, seeking guidance from God and others I trust, I established my own purpose statement which is a reminder for me on my purpose in life. Here is what I believe to be my purpose in life:
Model the example of Jesus Christ in a manner that is pleasing to the Lord for my family and circles of influence, consistently serve others by influencing them to find their purpose, excel in their callings, and point them toward God.
I will accomplish this by:
- Modeling Jesus Christ’s example, and letting everything that I say, do, touch and have influence over be honoring to God.
- Helping others to find their purpose life by mentoring and developing them to become more effective in their vocations.
- Leading within Higher Education, helping institutions become the most effective environment to teach others How to Think and to Choose for themselves and developing others to have the ability to tell the difference between a groundless argument and one based on fact or logic.
- Building Trust relationships.
- Growing in Transformational leadership.
- Transforming others into a life with Jesus Christ.
- Passion is something that I will pass on …. I will do it with God’s love!
My purpose for writing this is so that you can spend time in front of God asking him to reveal your purpose in life to you. I pray that God can use you to authentically lead with Purpose and Vision to produce extraordinary Action for His Kingdom!
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