Inspirational Leaders Have A Strong Sense Of Purpose
by Michael D. Hume, M.S.
If you think about it, you’re only going to follow someone if they clearly know where they’re going… and why.
In business, you know this to be true. Have you ever been stuck on a team with a “leader” who couldn’t clearly articulate why the group was doing what it did? Pretty hard to stay motivated. A team needs direction. A strong team of high-performers needs some direction, but more importantly, leading such a team requires inspiration. So any leader who aspires to the description of “inspiring” needs to start with a strong sense of purpose.
What’s your “mission?” Here are a few things to think about if you need to create a personal mission in your work, or if it’s time to re-evaluate and retool your mission.
As a starting point, I always encourage the leaders I coach to ask themselves some simple but serious questions, and to really spend time pondering (and possibly writing) their own personal answers. These are questions for which there are no wrong answers, but the quality of YOUR answer will mean a lot in terms of helping you craft your sense of purpose.
Do you really want to be a leader? Really? This is the first question you should ponder. Some of my clients actually find that they don’t really want to be leaders – they simply found themselves on a “leadership track,” and came to regard leadership as prerequisite to (and perhaps synonymous with) success itself. So the first-impulse answer is always “Sure, heck yes, I want to be a leader!” The client simply means that s/he wants to be a success… and who doesn’t? However, it’s possible to be a success without leading other people (you could be a great salesperson, or a movie star, or a novelist); so, is it really leadership you want? First step: separate leadership from success, and assess your own personal appetite for the leadership part of your mission. Some of my clients, when honest with themselves, have concluded they’re really not passionate about leadership, but are willing to “step up and take a turn” at leading the team. That might be a fine answer for you, and it might still lead you to a compelling mission… but check yourself out and be honest.
The all-important second question is a follow-up to the first: Why? Why do you want to be a leader? Get a clean sheet of paper and a pencil. Ask yourself the question, and before you overthink what the “right” answer should be, just let some reasons tumble onto the page. Then go back and analyze your answers… and don’t read the next few sentences until you do.
Did you notice any themes? Here’s a common reaction I’ve heard from leaders who’ve done this exercise: “The first few reasons I wrote down had to do with what successful leadership would do for ME. Only later did I think of how my leadership would contribute to the lives of others.” If that’s you… re-think your mindset. There are really two kinds of people in the world, and they make two very-different kinds of leaders. One type is driven by feelings of obligation; they want to contribute to the world and seek out ways to maximize the use of their gifts and talents in doing so. The other type is driven by feelings of entitlement; they want to find ways the world can contribute to them. You’ve met both types. You can almost tell by the way people talk about their work. Try this experiment: ask someone how business is. As they speak, do they refer to their job as a possession, as something they “have”… or more as a mission, as something they “do?” And what about you? Let me clue you in: inspirational leaders are, first and foremost, in it for others. I’m not saying you shouldn’t have a fulfilling, rewarding, pleasant job and career… you should! But you’re likely to find, as most of my clients have, that your personal fulfillment in leadership will be proportionate to the contributions you make to others and to your organization. If you’ve been a job-haver and not a job-doer, you can (and must) shift your mindset to one of contribution before your mission will become clear to you.
As if the first two questions weren’t challenging enough, here’s the one most leaders find most provocative: What gives you the right to be a leader? Really ponder this one, and it pays to write down your answers. Again, write whatever flows, don’t get stuck trying to “nail it.” Go back and analyze your answers, and look for themes. What you’re likely to find is an honest appraisal of your key strengths, both in terms of skills and attitudes, and they are these strengths which give you the right to lead. However, the main benefit of creating this list of strengths is that it will give you a personal inventory of the things that others will look for when they choose to follow you. That’s your “brand,” and it’s a good starting point for figuring out what your value is in the “marketplace” for leadership. Think of yourself as a box of cereal on the shelf… what would make the customer pick you over the other snazzy-looking boxes on that shelf? What makes followers reach for your brand of leadership?
The answer to that last question will lead you to ponder other things that will be instrumental in forming your mission: What sort of followers do you tend to attract? What sort do you WANT to attract? How do you change the nature of your followership? I’ve had many clients who’ve behaved as though they’d adopted a “control freak” brand of leadership… only to find that the brand tends to attract followers who need to be controlled, who want to be constantly told what to do. So think about what you want your team to do, think, and feel… trace that back to the type of leadership that would inspire such behavior… and then put yourself in the picture by crafting a mission that makes you that sort of leader.
You work through different missions at different stages of your career, and that’s perfectly normal. I’ll give myself as a recent example: in the last year I’ve discovered that I really do want to be a leader IF I can do it in a way that plays to my strengths. I think I have a lot to contribute to others, and can inspire people. My unique collection of talents gives me the right to lead certain followers… and the sort of people I want on my team are creative, bold, ambitious, willing to take risks and bet on themselves, and they share a sense of purpose around encouraging each other to contribute to the world and not primarily seek contribution from it. As a result, I am on a mission these days to help serious entrepreneurs start serious businesses. Part of my mission is the goal to “help people out of their jobs” and away from a life in which they trade time for money instead of reaching for something greater within themselves and within other people.
I like my mission. It compels me. And I earned it the same way many of my clients have earned their compelling mission over the years: starting with honest self-reflection and a relentless pursuit of a meaningful sense of purpose.
So take an inventory of your “why.” Do it honestly, and do it seriously. You can be the inspirational leader you want to be… make it your mission.
About the Author
Michael Hume is a speaker, writer, and consultant specializing in helping people enjoy health, wealth, and inspiring lives. Those who want to make money “one less thing to worry about” can learn more at http://oneyearplan.net/michaeldhume – anyone wanting more vitality can browse http://shop.enivausa.com/239824 – visit Michael’s web site at http://michaelhume.net