Leadership Purpose – Why standing for something means everything

In Leadership

By Michael Tonkin

As a leader, have you ever found yourself going through the motions? Each day resembling something similar to the day before and for a moment there, you’ve lost your leadership ‘mojo’. Maybe the fun has temporarily gone out of your role, the burden of it has become all too consuming. You’ve lost your empathy for people issues or the lack of vision in your department has made everything feel just too operational.

You are not alone. This is not a wonderful time for the leader but it happens to all of us. Maybe not forever, maybe not for months on end but definitely to all of us at some point.

In these moments it’s an ‘interesting’ time for a leader and their team from a psychological perspective.

Our leadership observations over the past 25-years would indicate that a fair percentage of leaders experiencing this lack of leadership mojo internalise everything. They don’t talk to their team about it (why would they?). They don’t approach HR. And quite often they ‘suffer in silence’ through their 1-on-1’s with their own manager, because talking about it might be viewed as if they’re not in control. They hope that it’s just a thing that will pass in time; in some cases it does and other cases it stays with them for far too long.

But what if it doesn’t pass? What if it lasts more than a few weeks and becomes the new norm? What then happens to the leader? What happens to their team?

What is clear from here is that the team starts to lose momentum. Quality communication from the leader dissipates and the connection within the team suffers. The team loses its energy and direction and to some extent the team becomes “leaderless” for a while. If prolonged, the team fragments and eventually individuals put their hands up to move departments or exit the organisation. It’s both terribly complex and simple all at the same time.

There are two obvious options for someone that has lost their leadership mojo for a period of time:

  1. Dust themselves off, treat it as a wake-up call and re-energise to take their leadership role seriously again.
  2. Leave the organisation and look for a fresh start.

On the surface both options could work but then again we’re not so sure.

Option #1 could work in the short-term, however, providing another ‘burst’ of leadership to rectify their recent wrongs might also feel short-lived. Being inspired to be “a better leader” without a very clear leadership plan or approach feels like a ‘sprint’ that could end in tears for the leader 3-months from now when they’re again too exhausted to manage all the complexities in the role.

Option #2 just might work; after all it could well have been the working environment or the people that just didn’t work for the leader. The risk for option #2 is that they start strong in a new role full of enthusiasm and loving their new team only for the symptoms in their previous role to surface a year or so later. And it’s only then that the leader starts to question environment versus their own leadership … “how could this be happening all over again?”

This leadership scenario paints a gruesome but realistic picture, one that leaders rarely talk about when they’re living it day-to-day.

So what do you do when you’re in this position as a leader? By all means, reach out to your support network if you have one. It’s not a sign of weakness to declare that you are finding it difficult to maintain leadership (and team) momentum. A problem shared is a problem halved!

Beyond your network, we have provided a few thoughts of our own.

The first place to start is to understand why. Why are you feeling the way you do? It could be workload – there’s just never enough time to stop, reflect and regenerate. It could be that you are carrying the weight of the world on your shoulders while the team around you are doing just fine (a sure sign that you’re not empowering your team). It could be a lack of vision in the team, no daily scoreboard to give the team a boost or simply a lack of buddies in the team for you to keep things light-hearted. Whatever the reason, of course it starts with why.

The reason might be clear cut, in which case your plan is all about overcoming this challenge. Problem solved, right? Maybe.

One alternative view might be that you don’t have a clear ‘leadership purpose’ and/or you get knocked off course too easily from your ‘leadership purpose’.

Let’s address this concept by answering the following five questions:

  1. What is leadership purpose?
  2. Why is leadership purpose so fundamental to maintaining my leadership mojo?
  3. What is my leadership purpose?
  4. What could get in the way of me living my leadership purpose every day at work?
  5. What can I do to ensure I stay on track and uphold my leadership purpose?

What is ‘leadership purpose’?

It is the things as a leader that you most stand for, the things that are most important to you as a leader. Conversely, it is the things that you won’t tolerate. Ultimately, it is what you are most remembered by.

Why is leadership purpose so fundamental to maintaining my leadership mojo?

Four reasons. Your leadership purpose

  • Defines you; it’s a sub-set of your personal values and beliefs. Being really clear about what’s most important to you as a leader is both liberating and exhilarating (you might be surprised how many people live a leadership career where they have no idea on what’s most important to them as a leader).
  • Is your leadership brand, it’s how others perceive you. When you and others are clear on your leadership brand you’re more willing to fight to uphold or protect that brand despite the challenges you face at work. When in doubt, it does become your ‘true-north’ or anchor point to keep things on track.
  • Reinforces your leadership strengths and the value you add to the business. It reminds you why you’re an effective leader and keeps these things front of mind. It keeps you going!
  • Promotes positivity and productivity in the team that ‘plays back’ to you in a way that only encourages you to maintain these leadership behaviours. It becomes self-perpetuating.

What is my leadership purpose?

That’s the million dollar question that only you can answer. One way to find out is to answer the below questions:

  • As a leader, what’s most important to me? What do I most care about?
  • What do I stand for?
  • What am I trying to do?
  • How do I want to be perceived by others?
  • What will I not tolerate?
  • What do I want to be remembered by?
  • What am I trying to achieve in the long term?
  • How do I want to behave on a daily basis, moment to moment?

Another approach that we use in our group workshops is to ask leaders to fill in the blanks below:

  • I …
  • I am …
  • I see …
  • I love …
  • I build …
  • I won’t …

What could get in the way of me living my leadership purpose every day at work?

First things first. If you have a well-defined leadership purpose you’re more likely to stick to those behaviours that are important to you and you’re less likely to go off course.

Having said that, we’re only human. Here are some ‘off-track’ examples that we hear from leaders:

  • “I have had an unrealistic work schedule over the past few months that’s pushed my beyond my normal limits.”
  • “We continue to underperform and our results reflect this. Just as worrying, there’s no clear way forward.”
  • “I have lost some key people and it’s thrown us all off balance.”
  • “I have got a bit going on at home at the moment and it’s distracting me at work.”
  • “I’m really frustrated with my manager because they …”
  • “I have some interesting personalities in the team that’s creating tension or conflict with me and it’s unsettling for all.”
  • “I don’t have a clear plan for the year ahead so I find myself jumping from one thing to the next.”

What can I do to ensure I stay on track and uphold my leadership purpose?

There are so many strategies for a leader to stay true to their leadership purpose, however in reality we think there’s really four things you need to do:

  1. As stated already, craft your leadership purpose, refine it over time and don’t file it in a draw; keep it somewhere visible.
  2. Create space in your working week to reflect on how you’re tracking against your leadership purpose. Get disciplined with self-audits.
  3. Find someone at work that you can talk to regularly about how you’re going as a leader, someone that will listen but will also provide you with honest feedback.
  4. Stay close to your team. When things get crazy and you feel your leadership mojo sliding, some leaders become inwardly focused and can drift from their team. They actually need to do the opposite and spend more time than ever before, communicating and connecting with their team.

OK, hopefully this have given you plenty to think about! We hope you’ve enjoyed a personal look at leadership, specifically the importance of clarity around your leadership purpose.

At Maura Fay Learning we integrate the concept of leadership purpose into our ‘Empowering and Inspiring People’ learning solution. If you would like to find out more contact us today.

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