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Leading with Purpose

How the best leaders stay resilient, committed, and inspired.

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This month I had the opportunity to co-lead a Marketing Leadership Program in partnership with Accenture-affiliated Brand Learning and The Marketing Society. The program participants all held enviable positions within their respective firms around the world, and they represented a diverse range of industries.

I did, however, notice they had one thing in common. Despite their varied backgrounds and cultures, these success-oriented participants were willing to go to great lengths to contemplate and define their leadership purpose.

Finding that distinct commonality really surprised me! The idea of spending significant time and energy on what some would consider the “soft” side of leadership can make many achievement-focused leaders feel antsy. Even frustrated (ahem). I hate to admit it, but I used to be in that same category: “Let’s cut to the chase and figure out how to get stuff done!”

The leaders involved with this program had enough experience to know the value of pausing to reflect on the meaning of their work before getting distracted by “how to.” They took the time to reflect on their values, passions, and purpose. They recognized the ingredients that made them who they are, and they understood how those factors influenced their decision-making. Their sense of purpose was crystal-clear.

According to the research, that’s a pivotal component for leadership success. In the Global Leader Forecast 2018 survey, leaders who worked in organizations with a defined purpose statement were twice as likely to get meaning from their work and reported 60% higher energy levels. A 2017 study from Ernst & Young found that a whopping 96% of leaders considered purpose to be a key element in their job satisfaction.

So what does it really mean to understand your purpose as a leader? Implementing strategies, improving processes and innovating is not enough to drive change in today's always-on, push-harder environment. Leaders need to have a purpose behind those actions to focus their energy and inspire their actions. Without the purpose, the efforts can seem meaningless.

I might even argue that trying to determine this purpose too early in your career as a leader would be counterproductive. As I reflect back on my own leadership map, I can see a clear demarcation between my drive to reach individual career milestones early on and my later focus on making an impact as a leader. My purpose shifted over time.

The best way to clarify your purpose is to reconnect with what is most meaningful for you as a leader. What compels you to take a stand or take action? What inspires you to keep going in the face of adversity or to stay committed? When you can actively work to deepen this sense of purpose, you’ll make a significant contribution to your leadership evolution.

What have you done to define and sharpen your leadership purpose?

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