The Purpose of Leadership

Businessman Making Presentation To Office ColleaguesWhat is the leader’s reason for being? I see quotes and posts from all corners of the globe on this topic.

I’ve been lucky enough over the years to engage a number of leadership thinkers on this idea. The range of responses is wide!

Some suggest that the purpose of leadership is to deliver results through others. Others see the leader’s purpose as developing more leaders. Even others see the leader’s primary responsibility is to make the vision come to fruition.

I believe that effective leaders do all these things and more.

What is missing for me in most of these responses, though, is the answer to this vital question: “To what end?” Who or what is changed when “leadership” happens? Who is being served when “leadership” efforts are applied?

If the outcomes of leadership efforts primarily serve the leader (in the form of bonuses, credit, promotions, etc.), others enjoy fewer (or no) benefits from those efforts.

If leadership activities discount or erode employee contributions or value, that inhibits employee engagement. Team members who feel discounted or taken advantage of won’t serve customers kindly or respectfully, nor will they willingly apply their skills in service to team or company strategies and goals.

In 25 years of consulting with leaders, I’ve never observed self-serving leaders positively impact my “big three” – employee engagement, customer service, or results and profits. They might get short term results, but over the long term, each of the big three are negatively impacted.

Can a single, all-encompassing purpose statement for leadership be crafted? Here’s my best thinking at this point in time.

In The Culture Engine, I present a template for creating an effective organizational purpose statement. Let’s refine that template for leaders. We need a succinct declaration that explains what effective leaders do, for whom, and “to what end” – how employees and customers are positively served by leadership efforts.

What do effective leaders do? They set performance targets. They demand cooperative interaction. They validate efforts. They celebrate accomplishments and team work. They listen and learn. They refine policies and procedures to make employees’ jobs easier. They hold themselves and all others accountable for performance and values expectations.

Whom do effective leaders serve? Their primary customers are their team members. Their secondary customers are those who purchase the team’s (or company’s) products and services.

To what end do effective leaders serve? They inspire aligned contributions by all team members in a trusting, respectful work environment.

By combining these answers into a crisp statement, we arrive at this purpose of leadership:

“Effective leaders set high standards for performance and values, validate efforts and contributions, and ensure cooperative interaction and performance in a trusting, respectful work environment.”

Does this statement align with how your most effective leaders behaved? What is my leadership purpose statement missing? Share your insights on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

Photo © Monkey Business – Dollar Photo Club. All rights reserved.

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