leading with purpose
Over the past decade, many books and articles have been written on the topic of finding purpose. A simple Google search of the words, “Finding Purpose”, produces over one billion results. There is no doubt that purpose is an important and interesting topic for many people. As a leader, having a purpose and leading with purpose is vital to success. Some leaders recognize that lacking a sense of purpose limits their impact on an organization. According to a study from Harvard Business Review, less than 20% of leaders have a strong sense of individual purpose. In fact, many leaders struggle to find purpose. When leading with purpose doesn’t come naturally, many use an executive coach to lead the way.

What is “Purpose?

Simply defined, purpose is the reason for which something exists or is done, made, used, etc. It answers some of the “why” questions of life. Purpose is personal and unique. Leaders who are driven by purpose find meaning in what they do every day. They can articulate the answer to the “why” question. Purpose builds resilience. It also cultivates curiosity, empathy, and stability, all of which are needed attributes of a successful leader.

Purpose is different from goals. Goals are evolving, but purpose is sustaining. A recent article from Success Magazine, illustrates these differences in purpose and goals. The article describes purpose this way:

“Purpose releases energy. The higher the purpose, the greater the energy. Purpose also frees us. The more profound the purpose, the greater the sense of freedom. Purpose opens up possibilities.”

Purpose must be present in order to create opportunities for releasing the energy that impacts people and organizations. A common term for this is “servant leadership”.

Leading with purpose

Leaders who embrace “servant leadership” realize their purpose and the influential power that is common with this style of leadership. Leading with purpose is not selfish; it is rooted in a desire to serve others. Leading with purpose is not done in isolation. These leaders are authentic, approachable, influential, empathic, and most importantly consistent. When leaders are driven by purpose, everyone knows what to expect. There is continuity in their approach to leading, which prevents a “Jekyll and Hyde” type of leader.

Leaders are like the foundation of a building, anchoring the organization and stabilizing the structure. Unstable organizations usually have inconsistent leaders, who are not leading with purpose. In his bestselling book, Authentic Leadership, Bill George, former CEO of Medtronic, explains:

“To become a leader, it is essential that you first answer the question: Leadership for what purpose” – Bill George?

Purpose must be found first. Bill George goes on to say that many people are attracted to leadership without giving any thought to the purpose. Again, this is about answering the “why” question. He also says,

“To find purpose, you must first understand yourself, your passions, and underlying motivations.” – Bill George

Executive Coaching and Finding Purpose

Having an executive coach as a leader can help in finding purpose. Many highly regarded CEOs work with coaches. Listed below are few core components of how executive coaching helps a leader find their purpose:

  • Challenges their assumptions
  • Identifies blind spots
  • Recognizes and develops strengths
  • Inspires self-reflection and builds self-awareness
  • Holds the leader accountable

These are the core components of how working with a coach can help a leader develop. Purpose driven leadership requires a commitment to continuous improvement. A leader never reaches a place of mastery, because life is ever-changing and always presents new challenges. It is lonely at the top. Leaders need to have someone who will listen and walk alongside them. They need a person who is completely invested in their success. This is the core of executive coaching.
To be purpose driven, a leader must recognize the value of coaching and the importance of investing in their development. Effective coaching starts with trust. Many leaders are guarded and have created layers between who they really are and whom they want to portray. Purpose cannot be found without being true to one’s self. In the book, Secrets Of An Executive Coach, the struggle of truth is emphasized, “At the core of this struggle is the on going process of truth management.” Truth management is defined as denying the expression of the unique truth of oneself. Leaders must practice truth management daily, which is critical to their purpose.

Curiosity Drives Leaders who Value Executive Coaching

The important thing is to not stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing. – Albert Einstein

Executive coaching helps leaders stay committed to curiosity about their purpose. What is their purpose telling them? How they can use their gifts to impact others? Successful leaders have become experts in their respective fields. A part of their success is the ability to understand the complexities of their organizations and industries. Executive coaches help leaders bring balance between what has made them successful and what will sustain them.

Coaching helps with the blind spots that leaders encounter. It is common for the over-achieving leader not to value listening or advice, much less coaching. This is a dangerous flaw. In her book, The Leadership Gap, well-known executive coach Lolly Daskal says:

“Failure to be interested in learning or listening is a mistake that highly driven, over achieving leaders make every day. They have soared to the greatest heights on the basis of what they know. But there comes a time when they must rethink everything and ask themselves: What is the gap between who I am and who I want to be, and do I know what it is I still need to learn?” – Lolly Daskal

Executive coaching is a pathway to the lifelong journey of self-development. Larry Sternberg and Kim Turnage, of Talent Plus, discuss the importance of developing yourself in their book, Managing To Make A Difference:

“No human being ever actualizes their full potential outside the right relationships. Parenting, mentoring, and coaching, exemplify the kinds of relationships that can help shape a person and lead to significant growth.” – Larry Sternberg and Kim Turnage

In conclusion, leading with purpose is an essential part of great leadership. Having purpose without a clear understanding of how to use it is where a coaching is a benefit. We all have strengths, however, understanding how to use them is vital. Strong leadership is about being authentic. Executive coaches can help leaders stay on purpose, and true to themselves. In the book, True North, Bill George describes this authenticity as “True North”. He says,

“True North is your orienting point—your fixed point in a spinning world—that helps you stay on track as a leader.” – Bill George

He goes on to say that understanding and finding your True North comes from your most deeply held beliefs, your values, and the principles you lead by. Executive coaches help leaders adjust their compasses and help them find their direction, their True North, which is driven by purpose.


leading with purpose, Leading with Purpose: Why & How

Steve Graham

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