Are You Developing Purposeful Leaders?

BY Kathy Crosett
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We hear a lot these days about how leaders should be filled with passion and purpose. Steve Jobs’ fanatical devotion to developing and selling his line of sleekly styled and game-​changing digital devices is a famous example. How much does purpose matter for other leaders? Quite a lot, according to University of Sussex researchers.

Most of us are familiar with organizational leaders who are obsessed about the bottom line. These managers believe that optimizing the company’s resources will fuel their climb up the corporate ladder. University of Sussex professor Catherine Bailey reports that a different kind of behavior, purposeful, is having an impact on organizational success. Team members are not enthusiastic about simply following a leader who’s driven by financial reward. All too often, these kinds of leaders end up taking actions that land them in questionable moral or ethical territory. Part of this new attitude is linked to the financial collapse which started in 2008.

Employees want to work for leaders who demonstrate purpose. Bailey explains, "Our study shows that the modern workplace is as much a battle for hearts and minds as it is one of rules and duties.” Unfortunately, only about 20% of leaders say they are ‘purposeful.’ Another researcher, Dr. Amanda Shantz, University of Greenwich, remarks, "[t]he traditional focus on leader behaviours only goes so far as to develop their ability to perform in a role.”

Leaders who want develop their sense of purpose often need specific training and practice. For example, if you’re not naturally a people person, you may need to develop your interpersonal skills. If you’re not enthusiastic about everything the company is doing, find a way to celebrate and emphasize the specific parts of products and services you believe strongly in. If you sense that commitment is lacking in your department, set up new traditions to draw people together, but make sure it's something you want to do. Don’t try to fake it. People can tell when you’re lying.

As a senior leader or business owner, you should be finding ways to “reshape the role of managers.” Give your managers permission to serve in a different capacity. Whether they are leading the company’s volunteer efforts, starting out a new program designed to improve company culture, or teaming with another department to redesign a shared work space, managers can grow into these changed responsibilities and have a chance to demonstrate purpose. In short, as they become more well-​rounded individuals, they’ll develop into leaders who people want to work for.