To be effective, a leader must have purpose—something bigger than self—something worth fighting for—in some cases, worth dying for. Goals help leaders to articulate what they want to achieve in definitive terms, but purpose is much bigger than a goal. A goal establishes the what, but purpose defines the why.
Without purpose, leadership is constrained by the classic “carrot and the stick” arsenal; but sometimes—oftentimes—teams are difficult to motivate and manage with only crude reward and punishment to provoke action. Successful leaders attach actions to tasks, tasks to outcomes, and outcomes to purpose. When team members understand the critical nature of their tasks, whether big and public or small and unseen, they are empowered to take ownership, not only of what actions they are directed to take, but how those actions contribute to the completion of tasks which bring about necessary outcomes to achieve a larger purpose.
These happy boys, had purpose; and that purpose made them work together, against all odds to orchestrate a moment of greatness—a moment of pure, unselfish greatness. It was a masterpiece…
Communication of purpose is critical to successful leadership. Effective leaders are not only able to transmit the essence of purpose to their team, but also to recruit true believers, proselytizing and evangelizing the gospel of their purpose within and without. No team functions in a vacuum, so robust leadership, often invisible to the team, constructs an environment conducive to team pursuits by clearing outside opposition, obstacles, and snares often before they arise.
Within a team, two-way communication is essential. Disseminating purpose may be the insemination of motivation, but reciprocation and validation foster cooperation and collaboration; that is to say, once a team coalesces around a common purpose, the pursuit of that purpose requires an ongoing exchange to maintain and nurture the connection of each team member to the common purpose. Listening is the most treasured and most effective element of exceptional communication. Shifting directives, unplanned results, delays, and other challenges threaten outcomes and erode morale; but astute leadership nurtures optimism and determination with an ever-evolving stream of bilateral communication.
Communication of purpose assures that team members are focused on—and determined to achieve—their collective purpose. This focus is impossible to sustain without intentional commitment. The unrelenting drive of commitment is an attribute that begins within a leader and, in the best of cases, is transmitted to his/her team. Commitment elevates the importance of the collective purpose above resistance, difficulty, distraction, or even apparent impossibility. Commitment says, “I won’t stop until my purpose is reached, even if that means I pass the torch to another to continue the fight when I’m gone.” That type of commitment is infectious because its very existence validates the prominent standing of the purpose to which a leader is committed.
Beyond inspiring perseverance in his/her team, the commitment of an unswerving leader assures their own efforts are exhausted in the fulfillment of the collective purpose. A leader who relents at difficult or even yields at impossible cedes their leadership to the challenges rather than asserting the dominance of their leadership over the challenges; however, a leader who will not relent and will not yield, tries every option and exploits every resource; so that, if disappointment comes, it will not be for lack of effort—but only for lack of opportunity to succeed.
Purpose, communication, and commitment top my list of leadership characteristics that I value. Communication can be a learned skill, but purpose and commitment are not learned; rather, they are cultivated attributes that are elucidated by way of experience, intentionally pursued, and stubbornly refined.
During a trip to Africa, by chance, I came across a group of boys playing soccer. The field was all dirt, no grass; little rocks (the kind that hurt when you step on them.) Most of the boys were barefoot and the ball was actually made out of rags tied into a huge knot. The guys were into the game and playing hard; running full speed, sliding, slamming into one another and falling to the ground; and then, one kid scored a goal! His arms flew out and he started circling the field like an airplane; his whole team following him; the other team behind him; even the goalie that gave up the goal was behind him, cheering, arms out… I had never seen such happy children anywhere in my life!!
I couldn’t help but marvel at how they could be so happy, with so little, while back in the US, people who seemed to have everything were so burdened and dissatisfied. That thought captured my imagination for a moment, but the longer I watched the boys, the more they taught me: these boys had decided that they were going to be great soccer players that day. It didn’t matter what they were the day before, or would be the day after; but THAT day, they played in the World Cup—opposing teams, but their purpose was unified. They had no field—dirt would do; no shirt, no shoes—skin was good enough; no ball—make one from rags..! …but not only that; their collective victory was not defined by beating someone else. Both teams celebrated the goal because victory was defined by greatness! …by achieving their unified purpose.
Every boy played a part: without teammates to bring the ball down field, a team to oppose them and even a defending goalie, there would be no score, no goal, no World Cup, no greatness! These happy boys, had purpose; and that purpose made them work together, against all odds to orchestrate a moment of greatness—a moment of pure, unselfish greatness. It was a masterpiece…
I can’t be certain how every leader finds their purpose or commitment, but watching the boys play soccer was my moment of elucidation—at that moment my purpose became clear as did its position of prominence in my life. After that experience, I resolved to dedicate my career to equity in the developing world, through planning and real estate development.
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