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Leadership: What’s Your Purpose?

Two conversations got me thinking: do we know what we’re doing and why we do it?

Two conversations got me thinking: do we know what we’re doing and why we do it?

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One conversation was with a senior leader in large company; another was with a friend who runs his own business. Both are highly competent and recognized for excellence in their fields; both have accomplished great things, and both are destined to continuing doing great work that will benefit customers, employees, clients and the community. However, both realize that they must refine the way they project themselves. The senior executive needs to focus on goals for the organization; the small business owner needs to refine his approach to marketing. Both could benefit from something that all of us need: a purpose statement.

A purpose statement defines your vision (where you want to go), your mission (what you do), and your strategies (how you do it). It is not a simple exercise; it requires much forethought and internal debate. Discussions with close associates are valuable. For leaders, purpose statements are essential. It is a process of thinking that helps focus your mind and in turn your actions. Toward that end, here are three questions to help you develop a purpose statement.

Where do you want to go? As a leader, you need to ask yourself where you want to take your organization. Do you want to be king of the hill in size or in reputation? Do you want to excel in your service or your products – or both? What do you want people to think of you when they think of your organization? Toward that end, how must you conduct yourself to lead that organization? How must you influence others so they buy into the vision? More importantly, how can you get them to contribute so they share in its development as well as its eventual rewards? These are tough questions that need to be asked again and again.

What do you want to do? Mission is what you do day to day and year to year, that is, what you do to satisfy customers. Leaders need to keep the organization aligned to that mission and to keep it real. One of the best examples I know is Focus: Hope, a social service agency in the city of Detroit. Its mission is helping men and women from disadvantage backgrounds enter the mainstream of society. Its co-founder, Eleanor Josaitis, lives that mission by recruiting corporate sponsors who can support the organization’s effort to educate and provide jobs for its clientele. She also spends time with all new employees, ensuring that they understand the history of the organization as well as its purpose.

How do you do it? Here’s where you become specific. If you are a creative director, you say that you develop creative concepts, provide direction for graphics and copy folks, and present creative concepts to clients. As a leader, you do more – you recruit and retain talent; you coach your creative team by setting expectations for what needs to be done, and you put people in positions where they can excel. In this way, you blend what you do with how you do it.

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Asking questions is for starters. Purpose has no meaning without another component: action. That is essential for leadership. Reflection is necessary to prepare yourself to lead and to make the positive difference, but thinking about it is not enough. You must do it. As Lee Scott, CEO of Wal-Mart put it in reference to his company’s effort at going green, “We will not be measured by our aspirations. We will be measured by our actions.” Same applies to us.

But you cannot forgo reflection. Acting on your purpose via vision, mission and strategies does not preclude thinking about how you are doing and why you are doing it. You may revise your purpose statement; it is not written in stone. And even if it is, you can do some ad hoc “sandblasting.” For example, I have adjusted my strategies from time to time to include new services and new approaches to serving my clients. These offerings are consistent with my vision and my mission but my approach has changed.

Businesses, too, do this; General Electric moved from a manufacturing company to a service company and now it’s transforming itself into a global company focused on innovation. Often visions do not change, but strategies are flexible; as in business, they come and go depending upon what you want to achieve. As we urge organizations to be nimble, so too, must we be flexible.

John Baldoni • Leadership Expert: Executive Coach/Author/Speaker • Baldoni Consulting, LLC • ww.johnbaldoni.com

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