How can we expect our leaders to provide us a sense of meaning and purpose when they themselves struggle with self-knowledge, meaning and fulfillment?
“We’ve found that fewer than 20% of leaders have a strong sense of their own individual purpose,” confirm Nick Craig and Scott A. Snook in “From Purpose to Impact,” published in the May 2014 issue of Harvard Business Review. “Even fewer can distill their purpose into a concrete statement.”
Here’s what happens when I’m working with executives in organizations. When interviewed at work about what gives their lives meaning, leaders parrot the latest corporate propaganda:
- “Increasing shareholder value”
- “Delighting customers”
- “Becoming the best in product innovation”
- “Delivering worldwide more ‘X’ than our competitors”
When asked the same questions at home, executives admit to profound symptoms of meaninglessness, work-related stress and dysfunctional family lives. When they do come up with answers about purpose, they typically fall back on generic and nebulous catchphrases:
- “Help others excel”
- “Ensure success”
- “Empower my people”
Just as problematic, hardly any have clear plans for translating purpose into action.
“Most of us go to our graves with our music still inside us, unplayed.” ~ Oliver Wendell Holmes
“Your leadership purpose is who you are and what makes you distinctive,” note Craig and Snook. “Whether you’re an entrepreneur at a start-up or the CEO of a Fortune 500 company, your purpose is your brand, what you’re driven to achieve, the magic that makes you tick.” It’s not what you do, but how you do your job and why—the strengths and passions you bring to the table, no matter where you’re seated. While you may express your purpose in different ways and contexts, it’s what everyone close to you recognizes as uniquely you.
At its core, leadership purpose springs from your identity: the essence of who you are. Purpose is not a list of the education, experience, and skills you’ve gathered in life. It’s definitely not some jargon-filled slogan.
Purpose should be specific and personal, resonating with you, and you alone. It doesn’t have to be aspirational, cause-based or who you think you should be. It’s who you can’t help being. Questions? I’d love to hear from you. You can reach me here and on LinkedIn.