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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Theories on organizational leadership philosophy have continued to evolve over the decades.
In the 1840s, leadership theory stated that great leaders were born not made. Later in the 1930s, trait theory emerged to describe great leadership as based upon certain physical qualities or social traits. At this point, great leaders could either be born or made, but only by associating with certain great leadership traits. Behavioral theories emerged in the 1940s focusing on the cause and affect of certain leadership behaviors toward their followers. Leadership theory now suggested the great leaders could be taught. Contingency (or situational) leadership theories came on the scene in the 1960s. Later, in the 1970s we began to see transaction leadership, such as leader-member exchange. Leadership became a mutual activity between the leader and follower. Finally, we saw the introduction of transformational leadership and servant leadership in the 1970s. Leadership became about behavior, inspiration, and most importantly a mutual relationship between follower and leader.
A Changing of the Guard
Arguably, two of the greatest change drivers facing organizations today are that of increased globalization and the shifting of our workforce to the millennial generation. It is these two factors that are changing the entire business environment we live in today. First, the landscape has changed. We are and will continue to do business in a globalized world. Second, the people have changed.
Today, globalized organizations are currently undergoing a radical shift into a millennial driven workforce. When the landscape changes, and the people change, everything changes. We are currently undergoing, what I like to call a changing of the guard for organizational leaders. Therefore, the way we lead the organization needs to change. It is based upon the two ideas of increased globalization and the deployment of millennial into the workforce, where we believe the theories of organizational leadership need to evolve once again.
In order for the leader to meet the new demands of the globalized, millennial driven workforce, we must embrace a purpose-centered leadership philosophy. The two aspects of purpose-centered leadership, purpose for the individual and purpose for the organization, seek to align an individual’s purpose (meaningful work, values and experiences) with the organization’s corporate purpose (values and cause).
The first aspect of purpose-centered leadership takes into account Vicktor Frankl’s (1958) theoretical work of will to meaning and applies three distinct notions for purpose as a motivator for organizational leadership theory:
- Purpose will involve pursuing meaningful activities for the employee within their vocation.
- Employees need to understand how these meaningful activities bring value or make meaning of past circumstances to themselves and potentially provide benefit to others.
- The employee’s meaningful work needs to be in alignment to a worthy cause.
It is through the alignment of these three elements of will to meaning (meaningful work, alignment and identification of values to meaningful work, and the alignment of meaningful work to a worthy cause) where purpose can become the highest motivator for us as individuals and as leaders in the organization.
The second aspect of purpose-centered leadership involves how the organization views and utilizes purpose for their members:
As a purpose-centered leader it is our duty to identify, articulate, and share the corporate purpose amongst employees of our organizations. The corporate purpose is how an organization sees and defines purpose internally and for its stakeholders. A corporate purpose communicates the powerful aspect of purpose for the organization, and it can ultimately provide the point of alignment for a worthy cause as discussed in Frankl’s will to meaning work.
The sharing of the corporate purpose involves facilitating the alignment between the members of our organization and the corporate purpose (Finely, 2009; Springett, 2004; Bartlet & Ghoshal, 1997; Burns 1978). To help embody this idea, prominent author and transformational leadership authority, James MacGregory Burns (1978) writes; “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”. (p. 3).
It is proposed that when leaders facilitate the alignment of these two aspects of purpose-centered leadership, the individual and the organization will experience this tremendous drive of purpose. Not only will this result is both performing to greater extents than others who do not, but both the individual and organization will share in the creation of meaningful work, which benefits both entities and society at large. This is where the tremendous value for purpose-centered leadership comes into play.
Bartlett, C. A., and S. Ghoshal., (1997). Beyond Strategy, Structure, Systems to Purpose, Process, People: Reflections on a Voyage of Discovery. Monash Mt. Eliza Business Review 1, no. 1 (September 1997): 54–61.
Burns JM. 1978. Leadership. Harper & Row: New York.
Finley, D. C. (2009). What’s your purpose?: Steps to creating a purpose-driven business. Journal of Financial Planning, , 18-19.
Frankl, V. E.,. (1958). On logotherapy and existential analysis. Am J Psychoanal the American Journal of Psychoanalysis, 18(1), 28-37.
Springett, N.,. (2004). Corporate purpose as the basis of moral leadership of the firm. Strategic Change, 13, 297-308.
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