What do Steve Jobs, Nelson Mandela, Angela Merkel and Richard Branson all have in common? On the face of it, not a great deal – they’re all leaders with very different styles and behaviours. But they do share one common trait, which is a strong sense of purpose.
A new evidenced-based leadership model – the result of research as part of a collaboration between Kingston Business School’s Wellbeing at Work research group and Adastrum Consulting – looks to provide a clear, evidenced-based foundation for understanding the process of leading with purpose and why it is central to success.
As a result of the findings, a sense of purpose can now clearly be defined as:
“A meaningful mental model that provides a reason for being and a guiding set of personal goals and objectives. A sense of purpose provides clarity of direction, unifying people to operate beyond their business objectives. A sense of purpose evokes passion and commitment; it makes sense of the world and the person’s role within it.”
What does this mean for established and rising leaders? Key findings from the research and resulting model show how focusing on a sense of purpose can lead to success.
Developing a sense of purpose
Our research shows that a sense of purpose is created throughout life, and encapsulates an individual’s personal values, goals and identity. A sense of purpose is personal, internalised and self-imposed, it cannot (like goals and objectives) be given to you!
Think about how you define success
What is distinctive about this research is that the focus begins with understanding how leaders with purpose define success, and how they use this definition to guide their approach in business, and against which they rate their progress.
A leader with purpose defines success in terms of the legacy they will leave, the impact they want to make financially and commercially, and at the team, organisational and stakeholder level.
Purposeful leaders are also concerned with aligning their personal values with their definition of success, and achieving a sense of meaning and well-being in attaining their goals.
Don’t focus on specific characteristics
There isn’t a specific set of characteristics which are essential to a leader’s success. Our model clearly shows that successful leadership is dependent on having a clear idea of what your purpose is. But certain behaviours can help. According to our findings, being transparent, consistent and passionate facilitates a leader’s success.
For example, 85% of participants in the research stated that leaders with purpose demonstrate upfront and transparent behaviours.
Recognise the barriers to purpose
In the same way that key characteristics can help facilitate a sense of purpose, there are also internal and external barriers that can get in the way. These include limitations of the job role, such as a lack of overall responsibility and limitations of the organisation, such as a complex structure, unsupportive culture or lack of focus.
Identifying and overcoming these barriers is really important in developing and fulfilling a sense of purpose.
Appreciate that a sense of purpose is time-bound
The findings also highlight that a sense of purpose is time-bound. There will come a point when a leader’s purpose within a role is fulfilled and they will either need to identify a new purpose within their current organisation or move to another role. This obviously has huge implications for how leaders view their current and future roles, as well as succession planning in general.
Written by Chris Underwood, managing director at executive search and talent advisory firm AdastrumConsulting