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Becoming A Purposeful Leader

Monday 14 November, 2011
First and foremost, leadership must be purposeful. People won't follow "accidental" leaders - no matter what you may have read to the contrary. Admittedly, some really successful leaders are so humble and personally unassuming - yet so passionate about their vision - that they don't seem to fit our personal definition of a "leader". But never, ever, assume it's "leadership by accident". It isn't. Learn what purposeful leadership looks like to emulate purposeful leadership yourself.

Becoming A Purposeful Leader Leadership - Such a big word for just 10 simple letters. So simple a term, yet seemingly difficult to execute. So easy to say, so complex to fully understand. So, what really then is this leadership stuff all about? Why does it matter, who cares, and what's in it for me? What about all these differences I hear between leadership and management - is that important?

Leaders have a vision, and that vision is very real to them, making it quite obviously purposeful. That they want to reach that vision is usually equally evident; that desire - passion if you will - translates into purposeful leadership focused on accomplishing their unique (and highly personal) vision.

Personal vision. Passionate execution. A textbook definition of leadership if ever there was one. But definitions are always the easy part; more difficult is knowing how to put those definitions - that passion and purpose - into action. The leadership lessons below demonstrate purposeful leadership:

Purposful leadership ...

  • Is situational

    It's not one-size-fits-all. There's no "one way" to effectively lead everyone in any single situation. It could be - except we throw people in that mix. Those pesky employees...

    People are different, cultures are different, leaders are different - the list goes on. All these variables mean that successful leaders must have a virtual arsenal of tools with which to work. There is no single "12-page Guide to Leadership", whereby every time a leader needed help, they could simply turn to Page four, Section two, Line three, and there would be the answer.

    Alas, no such luck. Leadership is inherently situational - embrace the ambiguity.
  • Is personal

    That's right - "personal". You can supervise from afar, though difficult; maybe even manage, though again, difficult. But lead? No, sorry. Leadership is personal. You've got to get in the game, roll up your sleeves, and maybe - just maybe - even get your hands dirty.

    Eye contact is essential. Real trust is created from real relationships, not pseudo, half-hearted efforts, concocted in a manner most easily executed. And real relationships aren't developed from 2-line emails.

    Having said that, a leader can be so obviously passionate, so loud with enthusiasm for a vision that others connect and act as a de facto leader in their stead. A rare, but powerful, occurrence. It's possible, it's quite rare, and you shouldn't bank on it.

    Two more points on the personal nature of leadership:

    1. Stop with the incessant attempts at automating performance reviews

      We shouldn't be trying to make doing these things easier, we should be shooting for more relevant.

      If the performance management process was bad to start with, automating it simply makes bad things happen faster. If you take something bad, then automate it, you have automatic bad. Now, we can mess things up in record time. Why doesn't this sound good to me?

      Performance reviews are evidentiary - the ending of a process for performance management (when done correctly). Isn't the end goal supposed to be better employee performance? How can we convince ourselves - as difficult as we know this process to be - that automating the effort will actually produce better employee performance? The easy answer to those questions is ... we can't.

      Quit trying to automate something that likely isn't doing all it's supposed to right now. Simplify the hell out of it, make it more relevant to employees and managers alike, and then actually use the process to drive employee performance necessary for your organisation's success. If performance management isn't personal, I don't know what is ...
    2. You can't develop leaders virtually

      I repeat, you cannot develop leaders virtually. Online courses, video seminars, webinars, etc. are great mediums for reinforcement of existing, practiced skills, but they are positively lousy for initial skill exposure and development.

      Leadership is personal. Ergo, leadership development must be personal. Not as in "private", but as in "people". Face-to-face, via coaching, personal facilitated sessions, workshops, and so on. If not, we could just give all newly promoted or assigned leaders a book, tell them to read it, and wish them luck.

      Face it - we don't get excited about these distance / online learning tools because we simply love distance and online learning - we are looking for quick fixes, instant answers... shortcuts to developing leaders. I've got bad news: no shortcuts here. Not at the development juncture.

  • Looks like leadership

    No one should have to tell someone that certain behaviours or actions demonstrate effective (read: "successful") leadership. People - employees - know it intuitively. We know it when we see it.

    We want leadership that looks like leadership to those who don't know anything about the technicalities of leadership. We know it when we see it, and we don't believe it when we don't. Simple equation, repeated countless times each day by those we purport to lead.

Leadership must be purposeful to be successful; it must have a demonstrated vision, with the passion and personal wherewithal to execute to that vision. All the rest - the noise, the egos, the clutter, the red herrings of office trappings, business cards, and salaries - are simply hubris.

Author Credits

Kevin Berchelmann, Triangle Performance. Described as a Human Capital Expert by The Harvard Business Press, Kevin Berchelmann helps new managers at private equity, Fortune 500 and small to medium sized businesses become top leaders that deliver results. Now you can get access to his FREE 'At C-Level', cutting edge newsletter at www.triangleperformance.com/articles/newsletter/register/ and instantly receive this FREE SPECIAL REPORT: Survey of Senior Executives
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