Senior Client Partner
Shift your mindset—define your leadership purpose
Enterprise leaders use a leadership purpose mindset. Let go of your assumptions about purpose to learn how it can enhance your organization's performance.
Shift your mindset—define your leadership purpose
To become the type of leader your organization needs today, you must let go of the type of leader it needed yesterday. In a world that changes rapidly and unpredictably, remaining the same means falling behind. To keep up, you must constantly challenge and question your own beliefs and assumptions.
This internal struggle can be overcome by adopting a specific mindset used by Enterprise Leaders—the 14% of executives with the skills and attitudes necessary to balance the complex and conflicting demands of the new world. It's actually a set of five integral mindsets: leadership purpose, courage, awareness of self and impact, inclusion that matters and integrative thinking.
To adopt the first mindset—purpose—you must look inward.
The volatility of today's business environment demands that leaders be adaptable and flexible. But constant, repeated adaptation can easily cause you—or others in your organization—to slowly drift off course. As a result, your actions can become unstructured and inconsistent.
Without purpose – and a change management leadership style – leaders lack the passion to persevere in the face of adversity. With purpose, leaders have the elevation, energy, and meaning to unite people and create a better future together.
"To push through the really difficult moments," says the CEO of an S&P 500 engineered products company, "You've got to have a purpose. You've got to have something that you really believe in."
According to our research, leaders with a clear leadership purpose often ascended to more challenging roles and even boasted an average leadership tenure of 18 years.
Purpose, when it is precisely defined, will be the North Star that keeps your orientation steady even as you navigate and overcome obstacles. By articulating this purpose clearly to other people, you can ensure that you are collectively moving in the same direction.
The first step in defining leadership purpose is to define what you stand for as an individual. You must identify what truly matters to you: your own values and ambitions and the way you think the world should be. You must understand how to express those internal truths through your outward actions so that your behavior stems from your core beliefs. Only your unique personal purpose will work for you—a general mission statement won't do.
Once you have established your personal purpose, you can begin to look at how that relates to your leadership role and how it aligns with the goals of your organization. This is how your purpose can transcend the self and benefit the enterprise.
According to Korn Ferry's Olivier Boulard, "I always think of one person we've worked with recently who's about to take a role as a CEO in the consumer industry. The day she defined her personal purpose, she completely became a different leader. Suddenly, everything she was saying, everything she was doing, became anchored. Suddenly, it is all obvious and consistent with what you stand for."
The three G model is a helpful structure for determining your personal purpose. Imagine a Venn diagram that clarifies your purpose by focusing on three overlapping areas: gifts, give and grow.
Once you've mapped these three elements, your purpose will be more clearly defined in the center. Your purpose statement doesn't need to be longer than a sentence. Your mantra should be short, simple, memorable and useful.
The role of purpose is to sum up why you're here and why everything you do is important. In the moment, it must be simple and powerful enough to re-center you with that knowledge.
This will be put to the test when you begin to use it before making a decision or taking action. You must pause and ask yourself: Does this put my gifts to good use? Who is this helping, and will it benefit them in the way I intend? How can I multiply its impact? In any moment or meeting, your purpose must help you answer those questions.
Your personal leadership purpose might be different from your organization's purpose, and that's okay. As long as you can identify the way your personal purpose benefits your organization, it will only add value to achieving success.
Organizational and personal purpose can coexist and benefit each other. At times, you might be inspired and driven by your company's purpose. During other moments you may be the source of inspiration and motivation for people at your company, creating an infinite loop.
Most organizations have one. What's yours? It usually appears in your mission statement, hangs somewhere on a wall or has its own page on the company website. It intends to inspire and motivate in the background of the organization. Perhaps it references responsibility, sustainability, or community.
Unless your purpose is actionable and functional, with a real impact on people's lives, it is only an aspiration. Some leaders think that simply pointing to this aspiration will, in some way, allow it to manifest in their organization. But it takes a tangible plan and proper change management leadership to actually transform your purpose into action.
Adopting a leadership purpose mindset means closely examining why your organization exists. It often quickly becomes clear that it's not for the purpose that hangs on your wall.
Korn Ferry's Kevin Cashman recently worked with the CEO of a food company. He says, "She was a very driven, no-nonsense, get-it-done CEO. I said to her, 'It seems that performance is your purpose.' And she got so excited. She said, 'That's it—performance is our purpose.'"
This is a common mistake that leaders make when they ask themselves why. Public companies have shareholders and must report results to those shareholders, and companies are built to perform. It's an easy misstep to assume performance equals purpose.
Kevin continues, "I asked her to slow down and take a breath. Could it be that heightening your purpose and the organizational purpose could elevate and enhance performance? What if people were as passionate as you are about why this organization is important and why its performance is important?"
He said the CEO replied, "I guess if they really understood that we're about nourishing people. That's why I drive so hard. I know that lives are at stake."
Performance and purpose are connected, but they are not interchangeable. Performance is what your organization achieves, but its purpose is why your organization wants to achieve it.
Most leaders go through three stages when thinking about their leadership purpose. Take a moment to consider which one you've reached.
In the first stage, you've created or accepted an aspirational purpose for people to feel good about. It generally has nothing to do with the "what" of your organization (its performance). It won't affect how the organization operates, steer decisions or change anything.
At the second stage, you have asked yourself why and understand the link between purpose and performance. That's good, but you can't stop there. You haven't fully investigated the reason your performance matters. Performance doesn't inspire the people in your organization to do their best work or give them the energy to create, strategize and grow. Purpose does that. To enhance your performance, you must elevate your purpose.
At the third stage, you have paused, reflected and reached a full understanding of the purpose mindset: your own personal purpose and how that connects to your organization. You've asked why your organization needs to perform beyond satisfying shareholders. Other good questions to ask focus on what would happen if it didn't perform. What would your customers lack?
One example is a Unilever brand, Axe. At the surface level, it exists to sell fragrances. But its brand purpose is "to help guys to express their individuality, becoming their most attractive selves." Your purpose doesn't need to change the world. But it does need to affect someone somehow.
Personal purpose doesn't just improve your performance at work. Research has found that people who have a purpose also live longer and enjoy full, rich lives. To learn more about the significant impact that purpose can have on your leadership style, get in touch with Korn Ferry and find out more about our Enterprise Leadership Framework.