There are all sorts of metaphors for leadership. One of my favorites comes to life every fall at our Global Institute for Leadership Development® (GILD), when participants experience an orchestra led by a conductor. By the end of the presentation, the podium—a place for one person to stand and lead—becomes a place for 200 or more participants to stand, listen and learn.
The podium is enlarged. And no tuxedo required!
Standing on the podium is symbolic of the impact that we, as leaders, have on others. It is also symbolic of how effective leadership can help create a collective effort where everyone is aligned, engaged and moving forward in the same direction—like a finely tuned orchestra playing in perfect unison.
In this scenario, the conductor found his purpose a couple of decades ago: applying the metaphor of the “orchestra” with the meaning of leadership, all the while bringing the message of classical music to the masses. By sharing his podium with corporate types who crave insights about leadership, he broadens their understanding and appreciation of his first love: music. He shares his baton. He shares his passion. And, as a result, something insightful, something memorable, something identifiable, something collective happens to a group of people.
This, I think, is the essence of Purposeful Leadership.
Finding your why
The essence of purposeful leadership is finding the “why” within yourself, and then enlarging your podium to include other leaders who have similar “whys”—or who are inspired enough to adapt your same “why.” The purposeful leader uses this collective energy to organize and energize efforts to achieve the “why.” But it starts with self-understanding. It starts with understanding our purpose, our gifts, our own knowledge, and our experience base.
As leaders, we move around to different teams, functions, divisions and businesses, each of which has different scale, scope, contribution and expertise. When we accept leadership of these different groups, the members of the groups instantly form expectations of us as their leader. [Note: they don’t instantly accept us as their leader.]
From there, our actions as the leader create a social dynamic that accelerates and augments the performance and behavior of that group. We walk around, assess, investigate, question, challenge and get clear about what is and what could be. As leaders, we aren’t outside the process, observing from a distance or receiving secondhand reports; we are acting out the process. It is both subjective and objective. But we bring who we are, what we’ve experienced, what we have learned, know, and believe to this process. We also bring our feelings and emotions, our ambitions and our sense of what we want to have happen: our why we want to lead.
Leadership doesn’t start with a need to be in a certain role or have a certain title. It starts with bringing our full self to an opportunity or a problem. It continues with our capability to articulate that opportunity or problem in a way that inspires and engages others (and enlarges the podium). It is accelerated by our ability to think through and target the right innovations that move an opportunity or problem to a different level. It is focused by our skills in organizing people to achieve that opportunity or problem. It is then enhanced by our sense of self: our character and presence, our wisdom and courage, our commitment and focus. Leadership is not a collection of competencies and skills. It is a set of commitments we make to ourselves and others to become the best leader we can be!
What experiences have shaped your personal “why,” and how have they impacted your ability to lead your team?
For more insight on finding your “why,” read a summary of our research: Purposeful Leadership + Why It Matters.