While many claim authority on what constitutes strong leadership, the truth is it depends on who’s judging. Our individual value systems serve as lenses through which we see just about everything, and leadership is no exception. Our current political landscape is a clear example. The United States presidential candidates have vastly different experiences, platforms, rhetoric, and styles, yet each one’s supporters insist theirs is the stronger leader.
As professionals, we evaluate our effectiveness based on multiple factors – some external, some internal. By most definitions, a good leader moves an entity (comprised of ideas and people) toward a desired state. A great leader does so while developing other leaders, who are expected to pay it forward. A purpose-driven leader, however, leads from the inside out – creating a flow of self-generative power that keeps on giving…even when circumstances change.
These days, a leader cannot solely be defined by a title, compensation, or power. In our constantly evolving – and flattening – corporate climate, leaders are recognized by the forward progress they make and the change they inspire in others. I’m sure you know people who lead with or without a big title. They aren’t trying to live up to any expert’s standard. They aren’t leading for performance ratings, raises, or accolades. These leaders are fulfilling a purpose, and likely have been doing so for a long time.
What does it take to lead on purpose? Simply put, a long-range view, a hefty dose of skill, and dedication. A purpose-driven leader starts with the heart – namely, his or her own – and builds strategies and plans from there. If “the carrot” in your professional life no longer provides the motivation you need, and you’re ready to try something much more sustainable, here are a few tools to keep in your purpose-led leadership toolbox.
1. A Long-Range View
Can you “see” the future you imagine? What are you doing in this imagined future? Who are you working with? How are you making a difference, and with what talents or resources? Every time I hear people say “I feel stuck,” I wonder if they know where they’re going. Think of it this way: it’s more productive to move toward a dream than to run from stagnation. Getting unstuck is a function of reaching. Consider the times you’ve felt truly successful. You had an end game in mind, and choice by choice, you advanced toward your goal. Carve out time to imagine your future. If the “what” is not yet clear to you, focus on who you want to help, or how you want to help, until the view comes into focus.
Thriving on purpose is a relay, not a sprint. Not every “leg” of the race will meet your expectations. Thankfully, you’ll have many opportunities to get it right. The most important thing you can do is hold on – to your vision, your confidence, and the people who will benefit from all the good you plan to do. Tough times will come. Sometimes they’ll even stay awhile, but don’t let your stumbling blocks become your story. You are a conqueror. You may have to evaluate your approach now and then, and do some things differently. Whatever it is you’re striving for, you can get there, if you believe you can.
Who’s in your corner? Do they know what you want to do, and what manner of support you need, specifically? Some advisors will suggest you keep your vision to yourself, citing risk of premature exposure or discouragement. That risk may be real, but when you have the right people in your corner, their awareness of your vision can be an major accelerator. The right people may know other right people, or have expertise you can tap into. They may be able to offer informed encouragement when you need it most. Every champion needs a champion. Be intentional about yours, and if you don’t have any close to you, it’s time to broaden your circle.
What’s a champion without a challenge? We all have room to grow. While it’s important to surround yourself with people who support your dreams, make sure you also have folks in your corner who will ask tough questions about your plans. I’m sure you’ve heard a version of the phrase “a dream without a plan is a fantasy.” You want your dream to become a reality someday. Align yourself with those who will give it to you straight. No one gets it right all the time, not even the most experienced leaders. You will occasionally miss the mark, but you don’t have to miss the lesson. Challengers help you avoid blind spots, and make you stronger.
Agility is the ability to quickly change direction when new information presents itself. There is a delicate balance between steadfast commitment to a purpose and blind ambition. If you envision your desired future state in broad strokes, but leave space for unexpected color, you will not only be more successful, but happier. While your vision should be clear to you, nothing happens exactly how we envision it. Sometimes, if we open our arms and hearts wide enough, we are blessed to watch a new reality surpass a former dream. Our imaginations, as vast as they are, are still limited. Be focused, but flexible. The more steps you take toward your purpose, the wider the path will become…and the more varied your choices will be.
Your purpose – and the unique gifting that accompanies it – is one of your most powerful leadership levers. It will fuel you, inspire others, and accelerate your progress. It sees farther, reaches deeper, and lifts higher. It gives you resilience in a business world that requires some serious bounce-back power.
Everyone has a purpose, but not everyone uses it thoughtfully to propel their work. If you’ve not already tapped into yours, give it a try. There’s no time like now.
Tara Jaye Frank is CEO of TJF Career Modeling, Corporate Culture Advisor for Hallmark Cards, Inc., and the author of Say Yes: A Woman’s Guide to Advancing Her Professional Purpose, written to help women from all cultural backgrounds chart a career course they can believe in and achieve. Tara consults and speaks on women’s leadership and diversity and inclusion. Follow her on Twitter @tarajfrank, Instagram @tarajayefrank, Facebook at Facebook/tarajayefrank, or visit her at tarajayefrank.com.