Purpose before Self-Your mission as a leader

In an era when many business leaders seek celebrity at the expense of their companies, others are quietly focused on something else entirely: the business.

What they care most about is carrying out the mission of the business, delivering the promised results, and building an organization they can be proud of.

They have a sense of purpose that goes beyond their own personal desire for extraordinary wealth, status, self-aggrandizement, or power. They put a broader purpose before interests that benefit only them.

Magnetic Leadership

Look around your organization and you’ll likely see leaders who are always thinking of what’s best for them or what will make them look good.

Then there are others who are driven to create something meaningful and enduring. Their purpose might be to make the organization the most respected in its industry, or to develop the best workforce in the world. One CEO I know has made it his purpose to recast his company as an innovation-driven organization.

These are the leaders people typically gravitate toward. The ones we trust, and who we want to be more like — not because of how much money they make, how much power they have, or how well-known they are, but because of who they really are, their inner substance.

Given the public transparency of the 21st century, leaders who put purpose before self are the ones to follow — and to emulate.

Actions Speak Louder Than Words

Some leaders make impassioned speeches about their glorious mission or lofty goals, but their actions reveal their true motivations. They want their own fame, power, and fortune more than anything.

Are you the type who says the right things, or the type who does the right things? Is your self-interest served by meeting a higher purpose?

Put yourself to the test by being intellectually honest in answering the following questions:

1. Are you willing to give up some of your turf for a broader purpose?

In 2005, a $20 billion company underwent a major reorganization, and one of the senior executives approached the CEO to tell him a portion of the executive’s new job really should belong to someone else.

What was he thinking? He was in a horse race to succeed the CEO and already had the smallest scope of all his peers and fellow contenders for the top job. Under those circumstances, many leaders would try to expand their span of control. But he believed the organization would work better if certain areas went to someone else.

This leader was not naïve or unambitious. It’s just that he truly wanted the business to succeed. Of course he hoped that his thinking would be recognized and appreciated. When his boss and the board get close to the succession decision, no doubt they’ll remember that this person revealed he’s not a greedy empire builder.

Caring about the good of the organization can mean ceding a portion of your span of control, voluntarily agreeing to cut back on projects in order to meet a budget goal, or sharing part of your leadership responsibilities with an up-and-coming leader who needs a development opportunity.

It might also mean giving up valued team members who would better serve the organization in a different capacity. In today’s global organization, letting go of good people is almost an imperative.

2. Do you place a high value on relationships?

Leaders who lead with a purpose understand that they must build and sustain relationships — with customers, suppliers, employees, colleagues, and others whose favor or contributions are important to their organization’s success.

They don’t see relationships as an immediate exchange of benefits. Their primary concern is not “What’s in it for me?” In fact, it may not even be clear exactly how a relationship could ultimately prove beneficial. Nonetheless, they’re happy to devote the time and energy.

One legendary leader who understood this was John Weinberg, the former head of Goldman Sachs. He was famous for regularly calling to check in on clients, even when he had nothing to sell them. He just wanted to be available to them to help with any issue he could.

The payoff was that he built deep, trusting relationships with his clients, who would often turn to him for advice. These relationships in turn helped solidify the reputation and strength of his business. It’s part of what brought him recognition as a great leader.

3. Can you value — and leverage — different perspectives?

If you lead with purpose, you understand that there’s little value — and much short-sighted paranoia — in dismissing or deflecting viewpoints that differ from your own.

If you try to create a picture from a higher altitude, namely the corporate viewpoint rather than a departmental or divisional viewpoint, you’ll be better able to reconcile conflicts. To do that, you have to be able to step into someone else’s shoes and see things through their eyes.

Are you given to clashing with other leaders in your company, or do you seek to build strong working relationships with them based on your shared commitment to the common good of the organization? Do you automatically push back on customer demands for earlier delivery dates, discounts, or more favorable credit terms, or do you try to understand why these requests are being made and work with the customer to arrive at solutions that benefit both parties?

Leaders who put purpose before self can recognize, accept, and even leverage different perspectives — often to tremendous advantage

4. Are you comfortable with transparency — because you have nothing to hide?

Transparency is the order of the day, and people are more willing to work with, work for, and partner with people they trust. Trust is, after all, the crucial glue of collaboration.

Those who are narcissistic, who cut corners, and seek the easy path when the right path appears too difficult, and who clearly put themselves first, are less effective because they’re held in much lower regard.

If, on the other hand, a higher purpose guides your actions, others will know where you stand and what you’re about because you have nothing to hide.

Mark Twain observed that if you tell the truth you don’t have to remember anything. He offered this as a humorous observation, but as a leader you should take the spirit of the message seriously. If you put purpose before self, you’ll spend little time covering your tracks, “spinning” bad news, brandishing your image, or seeking to rebuild trust with others. And, as a result, you’ll have that much more energy to devote to your purpose.

Disclaimer: source and author unknown.

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