How to Lead With Purpose

The purpose-driven company is lead by someone who has a reliable inner compass guiding them. John Baldoni asks: What’s your direction?

Can you describe the purpose of your business in a single sentence? Do you—and does every single person who is connected with your organization—have a reason to believe in that mission? Internationally recognized leadership educator John Baldoni believes that when an organization succeeds, it is because everyone involved knows precisely what they do—and why they do it. Even in start-up mode, an entrepreneur needs to constantly consider his or her mission and purpose to ensure growth and success. I recently spoke with Baldoni, the author of Lead with Purpose: Giving Your Organization a Reason to Believe in Itself, about the the defining qualities and responsibilities of one who leads with purpose.

Leaders, especially entrepreneurs, are generally risk-takers, but the people we manage are not always comfortable with ambiguity. How can a leader help a team feel confident—even in the face of change and uncertainty?
Uncertainty may be the defining reality of today. I think we have always lived with it, but since the crash of 2008 we all feel more vulnerable. The financial institutions we trusted let us down and so we all feel more uncertain. It is up to leaders to define the new reality. I call it “squaring the circle.” The enormity of a challenge throws us but if we can gain perspective and look at the challenge as a series of events or obstacles we can get a better handle on our course of action. Leaders do that for us. So for example, if I own a small business and a large company enters my market, some employees may think, “we’re dead.” Not at all. The leader must define reality. Focus on what our company does well and how and why its employees help define that competitive edge.

In your most recent book, you express the importance of “defining purpose.” Tell us more about what this means and how to work through the process.
Purpose is the catalyst for the organization. It provides the why and the how. Why is what we want to achieve. How is the means by which we will do it. Defining these words becomes the impetus for action. Purpose is also the trigger for vision, mission and values. Vision is what you aspire to achieve; it is the process of becoming. Mission is what you do; it is the process of doing. Values are what hold the organization together; it is the foundation for individual and corporate accountability. Knowing your purpose provides clarity. Leaders must work hard to “connect the dots” between what an individual does and how that enables the organization to succeed. Too often we take that for granted but, trust me that while most employees know their job function, too few know how what they do matters to others—especially to the organization.

Many small business owners don’t see themselves as leaders. They hire friends, or become friends with their employees. What would you say to these entrepreneurs about stepping into the leadership role?
Hiring friends can be a dodgy proposition. It has been known to ruin friendships because the leader of the enterprise must be in charge. He or she must be the final arbiter of decisions; that may bruise egos. Leadership is the process of providing guidance and direction, as well as bringing people together for common cause—the theme of my book. When the wind’s at your back, it’s a breeze; when the wind is smack in your face—as it is for many entrepreneurs—it can be daunting. Leadership is not about position and title; it is about doing what’s right for the organization. But if you have the title of president or CEO then you must act the role of the person in charge: mindful, purposeful, and decisive.

It’s important for a great leader to be very self-aware. In larger corporations an assessment process is often put in place. What do you recommend for the small business owner?
Self-assessments are designed to paint a broad stroke picture of your personality. The assessments that I use focus on the leadership self. They are very accurate but they are not to be taken as totally definitive. When used in the coaching process they can provoke greater levels of self-understanding. We also like to say that assessments are interventions, that is, interruptions. Use them as tools from which to learn but not to define specifically.

Many small business models use contract employees to fulfill the work, with no employees on board. Can you give us some examples of why leadership qualities are still important, even with no employees?
A leader sets the course for others to follow, regardless of whether they are employees, contractors or vendors. Personal leadership is the process of leading oneself. That means, acting with autonomy, with initiative and with responsibility. It also means holding oneself accountable for results.

We deal with many different personality types and learning styles in this diverse world we live in. How do you suggest that a budding leader prepare himself to communicate effectively to the various styles he will encounter on his journey?
Be yourself, but be aware. You treat everyone as contributors, as ones who are invested in your company and you in their success. There are cultural nuances of course but generally in this country we are low in the trappings of hierarchy. We respect it but do not stand on it. First name basis for everyone including the CEO. You trust people until they show otherwise. Communication is more than words; it is also listening and learning from what you hear and do not hear. We communicate as leaders more through our actions than our words. In other words, do not over promise and under deliver; follow through on your commitments.

Strong communication skills are imperative in most any positive relationship. How has the relationship between the business and the vendor evolved over the years? Why is it important that entrepreneurs apply their leadership skills in these partnerships as well?
Without question the relationship has changed. In some instances vendors are virtual employees; in others they work closely with their host company. They must be treated with respect and as contributors to the success of the enterprise. A leader must be front-and-center in setting clear expectations, providing resources for the work, evaluating progress, and rewarding success. Accountability on both sides of the relationship is critical.

What are your words of wisdom for someone who is launching a new business and who might not even consider the importance of leadership qualities?
Know yourself and know what you want to achieve. Study the masters and learn from them. Know that once you gain more than one employee you need to be a leader. One who knows how to bring others together for a common purpose: to create an enterprise comprised of engaged employees who know the why and how of their work and are committed to serving the customer.

By Marla Tabaka |  @marlatabaka  

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