For many of us, it is a natural first step to focus on the latest and greatest strategies to lead. Center Board Member Doug Conant challenges us to take a step back and ask ourselves the fundamental question of why it is we choose to lead in the first place. He argues that to have the most powerful and positive impact on people is to know who you are as a person and have a firm grasp of where your priorities lie. We couldn’t agree more. This post originally appeared on Doug’s site and is reposted here with his permission.
Shakespeare had it right, “To thine own self be true.” When the day draws to a close, when your constituents are not around, when the hustle and bustle has subsided – you have to be able to look yourself in the mirror and feel good about the reflection peering back at you. First and foremost – you are accountable to yourself. But how can you hold yourself accountable if you have not taken the time to reflect on who you are, why you choose to lead, and what matters to you most? You can’t. And you owe it to everyone around you to make a commitment to find out.
We often neglect the most important stakeholder of all: ourselves
There are three essential questions you should explore as you embark on your leadership journey of self-discovery. Each of the three deserves ample focus – so in this week’s post we’ll explore just the first, essential question of leadership:
Why Do You Choose To Lead?
Much too often, people become leaders because doing so was merely the next logical step in their careers. They know what they want to get from the position (i.e. a new challenge, more prestige, better pay) but many have a tenuous grasp on what they hope to give. Sure, they’ve got a reason to lead but they are vague about their purpose. This is insufficient.
Why? Because leadership is hard work. It requires grit, tenacity, and time. Without a crystal clear purpose that drives you, is leading really worth the endless hours, the hand-wringing over forecasts and budgets, the reports, the grumbling, the travel? Will it be worth the steadfast devotion to spending more of your waking hours at work than anywhere else? Without purpose, will you be OK spending your life completely immersed in your leadership duties, virtually every second of your existence for the foreseeable future? Think about it.
Knowing why you want to lead provides a profound well of energy to draw upon – a reservoir of vitality much deeper than just finding meaning in your work. For example, say you are marketing latex gloves. You may find meaning in the fact that you are helping prevent the spread of infectious diseases. But that doesn’t necessarily mean you will find the work personally fulfilling. Consider this distinction:
Meaning is a matter of context — of understanding how your work adds value to someone, somewhere.
Purpose, in contrast, is deeply personal. It is about finding your place in the larger scheme of things; it is about thoroughly loving what you do; it is about being so energized by your calling that you feel compelled to shout at the top of your lungs, “This is what I was meant to do!”
Knowing why you want to lead provides a profound well of energy to draw upon.
Of course, like most things worth pursuing, connecting with your purpose is easier said than done. One challenge is that we don’t often take the time to delve into this question in a quality way. And, when we do – we struggle to find the right words to adequately express our feelings. Although we are well-versed in the language of reason, we don’t always have the ability to verbalize what is in our hearts. Don’t be discouraged. If the words don’t come easily to you at first, look to the words of others – look to poets, to politicians, to playwrights, to titans of industry. Look to those who compel you to dream.
Specifically, one exercise to help you bring your inner vision to life is to think about the other leaders throughout history who have inspired you. One leader who greatly affected my personal search for purpose is Teddy Roosevelt. To this day I can recite this resonant snippet from a speech he delivered in 1910, “The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena; whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs and comes up short again and again; who knows the enthusiasm, the great devotions, and spends himself in a worthy cause…”
My purpose has been: to help build world-class organizations that defy the critics and thrive in the face of adversity.
These words, (among others), helped me to find my purpose in the corporate arena. After much reflection I arrived upon the realization that my greater cause was to take tired, toxic cultures, and devote my efforts to re-invigorating them and turning them around. In a sentence, my purpose has been: to help build world-class organizations that defy the critics and thrive in the face of adversity. Yet I never would have arrived at this succinct encapsulation, which anchors me to my purpose, without first asking this most crucial question of myself: Why Do You Choose To Lead?
So, go ahead. Don’t delay. The people with whom you live and work are waiting. Ask yourself the crucial question. Why do you choose to lead?