Monday, November 18, 2013

Purpose-Driven Leadership

I have been meeting with a friend over the last several weeks to discuss leadership. What started as an opportunity to catch up has evolved to a deep dive into leadership. We have been exploring the role of servant leadership in a corporate environment and this has me thinking about purpose… why do we do what we do?

Leadership is influence. As leaders, if we are not willing to assume an influential role, then we have no business being in the leadership position to begin with. Influence simply suggests that we have some effect on others. This change can either be positive or not; it can be accomplished intentionally or by chance. If our leadership is going to have a bearing on those around us, don’t we have the responsibility to ensure that the affect we create is constructive?

This is the heart of servant leadership. Too often we think of this as always stepping up and doing… but it’s more about being than doing. It starts first with knowing ourselves and evolves to a point where our purpose, the reason we do what we do, is always for the betterment of those around us. Let’s explore this in my three principles of servant leadership.

Understanding Others
Before we can begin to understand others, we first must slow down and listen. Listen to what others are saying, listen to what other are asking, and most importantly, listen to the needs of those we serve. Effective leadership is developing a keen sense of awareness of the needs of others and then acting on those needs to advance both the individual and the organization. In deference to Albert Einstein, “Any fool can know others; the point is to understand others.” With this understanding evolves a level of empathy that allows leaders to share in the experiences and emotions of others.

Nurturing Others
Once understanding begins to take shape and our conceptualization of others becomes more defined, our role as leaders shifts to one of encouragement and support. Tom Peters said it best, “Management is about arranging and telling. Leadership is about nurturing and enhancing.” It is not enough simply to tell others they are valued and doing a good job, leaders must demonstrate this through engagement. Our presence indicates commitment and value, both of the task at hand and of the individual performing the task. Our involvement cultivates a deeper relationship that provides a foundation for leadership development... both in others as well as in us.

Growing Others
As a leader, I have always found it satisfying when someone I have mentored or supported receives an opportunity to advance in their career. The leadership role is one of stewardship – the careful responsibility of resources - whereby the greatest resource is that of the human kind. Like the parable of the talents in the New Testament, we are to grow the talents of those entrusted to our leadership. Warren Bennis states it this way, “Growing other leaders from the ranks isn’t just the duty of the leader, it’s an obligation.” Our obligation to others is to give them our best and to, in turn, expect the best from them. We do this not by burying the talents we collectively have, but by intentionally developing these talents together in a partnership of possibility and potential.

While some may argue that servant leadership can be considered a redundant term, the label serves as a reminder to us of the importance of these concepts in the leadership relationships we enjoy. These principles are progressive and build on one another as we evolve our servant leadership roles. It is the ultimate purpose of leadership to serve others. But, Friedrich Nietzsche warns, “To forget one’s purpose is the commonest form of stupidity.” What is your purpose? Why do you do what you do?