Unfolding the Future


Leadership with purpose

Why is purpose important in leadership?

As much as COVID-19 has disoriented our lives and the entire human landscape, nowhere has been more acutely felt than where it matters most – at the top.

The crisis has demonstrated how imperative it is for leaders to demonstrate compassionate leadership and to make dealing with the unfolding human tragedy their first priority. They need to show confidence and control as Heads of billion dollar conglomerates or Heads of family empires in dealing with their people’s immediate concerns while they allow their fears and anxieties to resonate with their colleagues and kin to show their human side.

This is no easy task, not even for world leaders with entire government apparatus and media at their beck and call.

In such seemingly desolate times, being a leader is not enough, no matter how compassionate; what we need is leadership with Purpose.

Harvard Business suggests that fewer than 20% of leaders have a strong sense of individual purpose. Even fewer can distil their purpose into a concrete statement. Most land on the most generic purpose of all i.e. ‘to make a difference’. Runners up include ‘empowering others’ and ‘being an enabler’. Hallmark cards inspire better.

When there is no Purpose—or more importantly, a clear articulation of Purpose—leaders limit themselves. This is what we see with most leaders of today. They can glibly state what their Fortune 500 company stands for (‘To be the No.1 this’ and ‘To be the best at that’) but without Purpose, they limit their aspirations and are more likely to fail at their most ambitious goals, personally and professionally.

How does a leader find his or her purpose?

Look back at your life and narrow it down to the three toughest moments you have been in and how they shaped you. What got you through is probably a potent mix of self-belief, grit and gumption.

Now ask yourself: what kind of metaphor would you paint it in?

To Richard Branson, it is tennis. Branson says, "Tennis moves so quickly that if you dwell on the past for even a few minutes, an opportunity will have passed and the moment will be lost. You have to get into the right frame of mind in order to perform your best, and need to be able to put setbacks behind you instantly.”

Other purpose-driven metaphors that Harvard Business helped leaders range from being ‘a Wuxia master who saves the kingdom’ to ‘someone who constantly rattles the cage’ to ‘a gymnast who is excellent in one discipline but wants to be an all-rounder’.

The Wuxia master arrived at his purpose-driven metaphor because of his love for Chinese Kungfu movies. The cage-rattler because of weekly visits to the zoo with her family. The gymnast? You can work that one out.

The common thread from Branson’s tennis to Wuxia is in identifying your core, lifelong strengths, values, and pursuits that energise you in the most challenging of situations. Like COVID-19.

What happens after you’ve found your leadership purpose?

Have the courage to live it and create impact, every single day.

Leadership is not just in what you do; it’s in how you do it and why. It’s about the strengths and passions you bring to the table, especially when you’re seated at the top.

In his book “Leadership with Purpose”, author Kevin Murray describes the perfect leadership purpose as the “overlap between doing something you love, doing something the world needs, doing something you are great at, and doing something you are paid for.”

Leadership with Purpose is transformative. It can convert an organisation, a team, families and relationships into highly spirited, effective ones. It can transform employees, team members, spouses or friends into partners.

With purpose, we become leaders of life.

Reference: Harvard Business School / International Executive Development Programmes / McKinsey