Purpose Leadership. Really?

‘The two most important days in your life are the day you are born, and the day you find out why.’ Mark Twain

This statement’s departure point is that we all have a task in life, though it may remain hidden from us for a long time.

The workplace may offer a solution here, and the concept of purpose leadership seems to respond to this. 

Not without reason. If we experience our work as meaningful, we not only work more diligently and efficiently, it also appears to be better for our well-being.

But what is actually meant by purpose leadership? Isn’t it a pleonasm, like the round ball? Isn’t purpose already embedded in the concept of leadership, like in the ball, which is round by definition? 

Purpose springs from your identity, the essence of who you are. Your purpose connects your talents with your passion, it’s the calling or mission that the lucky ones among us discover in the course of their live.

When it comes to leadership, we generally have a clear notion of what it is about. ‘Modern’ leaders stimulate and inspire from their internal conviction. Over 30 years of ‘research’ among my clients often yields similar names, such as Dr Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Gandhi, and more recently, Desmond Tutu. People with a clear purpose.

The fact that the eloquence of ‘leadership’ without the adjective ‘purpose’ has eroded is undoubtedly related to the tension in which the leaders of modern organisations find themselves. In many cases, the organization’s purpose has made way for survival instincts and the pursuit of profit, and leaders are expected to prolong that objective.

Working from his purpose in such context requires the leader’s courage. There is a high chance his calling will clash with the organization’s desire to survive. After all, listening to one’s calling means raising pressing issues.

The pressing issue becomes powerfully evident in ‘The Good Ancestor, How to Think Long Term in a Short-Term World’ by Roman Krznaric (2020).

According to him, we – the rich countries – have colonized the future by treating it as a distant outpost where we can dump our ecological and technological risks. Future generations are by nature powerless; they have no say in what they inherit from us. Our legacy is their starting point, just as we had to build on the legacy of our ancestors, the constructive ones, such as agricultural and medical discoveries, and the destructive ones, such as colonization and slavery. In short, Krznaric’s advice is to think about the consequences of our actions for future generations. Shareholder value and short-term thinking must be abolished and replaced by thinking seven generations ahead.

Now, that is Purpose!

Instead of an adjective, leadership demands responsibility. True leaders hold themselves accountable for the future impact of their own actions, those of their team and/or their organisation!

This rediscovered leadership, therefore, requires the courage to do things differently. Instead of setting a goal by planning from the present to the future, it asks to plan backwards, from the future to the present…

It may sound strange at first, but planning from the future is not strange to us. We do it several times a week. For example, before a meeting at 8 o’clock the following day, we set the alarm by calculating backwards what time we have to get up. Considering the meeting time, we plan backwards: travel time, the time we need before leaving home (shower, dress, breakfast, etc)…

So, let’s re-evaluate leadership by asking impactful questions. Questions like: ‘How do I (or we, as a team or a company) want to be remembered by future generations?’ ‘How do we want them to judge our legacy?’ ‘From what values do we want to act?’

Do you want to elaborate on this? Please get in touch with us via info@poweredbymeaning.eu

Picture: Kristopher Roller 

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