Leadership Principles Series | Leading Self with Character: Sense of Purpose

Leadership Principles Series | Leading Self with Character: Sense of Purpose

Having a strong sense of purpose is necessary for any leader. Before a leader can lead an organization with purpose, she needs to know and articulate her personal sense of purpose. A leader who is able to articulate and identify her mission in life is taking a most important first step in leading others; she is leading herself — with character. A leader who has defined who she is and what principles and values she represents will be able to understand and lead her organization more effectively.

One’s sense of purpose is the foundation for an individual leader’s ability to inspire and influence an organization’s members.

More than just giving direction or defining goals and expectations for an organization, living one’s sense of purpose can generate passion and energy and can lead to creative identification of new possibilities.

A sense of purpose gives direction. As personal sense of purpose leads and guides all that a leader does. Purpose helps leaders give guidance by answering the question: “Why are we doing this?” Once someone understands the “why,”a leader can set the trajectory for the organizations’ present and future activities.

A sense of purpose defines goals and expectations for an organization. When a leader’s personal sense of purpose is aligned with the organization’s purpose, she is better prepared to communicate goals and expectations for her employees. If people are clear about the overall purpose for the organization, they can begin to understand how their job roles and responsibilities relate to that purpose.

A sense of purpose generates passion and energy. Without a sense of purpose, people have no focus for their energy and enthusiasm. A sense of purpose is important on both an organizational and personal level. Although it is important for leaders to define a purpose for the organization, it is also important for individuals within the organization to assume ownership of the purpose. In addition, an organization is strengthened by individuals who allow their personal values and purpose to charge their work with intensity and energy.

A sense of purpose leads to creative identification of new possibilities. When people are working toward a common goal, setbacks and roadblocks are inevitable. These challenges, however, can be overcome through brainstorming and creative problem solving when driven by a personal and organizational sense of purpose.

Leading self with character must include living with a sense of purpose for one’s life and work. Each leader develops his sense of purpose throughout life as all his past experiences and education inform his perspective. Reflecting on these experiences can help a leader to solidify his priorities and define his personal mission and purpose. With a personal sense of purpose in place, he will be prepared to lead others more effectively.

This post continues a series informed by the Leadership Principles from Mountain State University’s School of Leadership and Professional Development. Read the other posts:

This was originally posted at Mountain State University LeaderTalk and is re-posted with permission. 

Filed As:  purpose, focus

About Becky Robinson

I am the owner of Weaving Influence and the leader of the Weaving Influence team. We help authors and thought leaders grow their online influence. I am also a wife and mom of three daughters, and I enjoy running, reading, writing, a good cup of coffee, and dark chocolate.

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What People Are Saying

  • One of the activities in The Leadership Challenge Workshop helps participant define their purpose by discovering and prioritizing their values. Values drive purpose through writing a Credo Memo that align actions with values, statements prefaced by “This I believe…” It’s a powerful exercise that not only defines purpose, but can keep leaders focused on their true north.

  • Loved the post and couldn’t agree with you more that a sense of purpose is central to leading yourself and others. Also, there is no way to inspire others to action if you have no purpose within yourself! People can usually not pinpoint why, but they won’t commit to your cause when your purpose is “iffy”

  • LOVE purpose Becky! You are correct that Purpose is the “why”. But I must disagree that purpose and mission are closely related. Mission is the “what, where, when, and how” of what we do, and those are all subject to change. Purpose is steadfast and should never change. If I read a lot of what people call their purpose statement, they are really just mission statements. I can tell what they do, but can’t tell why they do it, why it is important. I suspect that is because that is not clear in their mind either. Thanks! Bret

  • Defining purpose is part of leadership work. It’s creating the “why” that guides and supports the hows, whens, and wheres.

  • I couldn’t agree more Becky. I have two recommendations. The first is to write your purpose down. I’ve found that nothing focuses my purpose better than having to put it to paper. Second is to write down the assumptions that underlie your purpose. Similar purposes can arise from differing assumptions. Sometimes that provides an opportunity for collaboration. Sometimes not. My experience says it is best to know beforehand what is leading to your shared purpose with others. Assumptions allow you to do that.
    Thanks for provoking more thought.

  • I am reminded of a quote by Washington Irving,
    “Great minds have purposes, others have wishes. Little minds are tamed and subdued by misfortune; but great minds rise above them.”
    So, i must ask, is a sense of purpose a sense of greatness?

  • Thanks for all the conversation today! I’ve been away from my computer mostly, but have enjoyed hearing all your thoughts.
    Angie – the Credo memo sounds great. I would love to read yours, sometime.
    Monica — I agree. I have trouble giving my time and energy to something if I can’t figure out what the purpose is.
    Bret — You make a great point about the distinction between mission and purpose. Leader need to identify the how, when, and wheres as well as the whys.
    Wally — thanks for helping make the distinction a little clearer. It makes sense to me to describe mission as supporting the whys.
    Paul — Writing down purpose and seeking to understand people’s underlying assumptions is a great idea. Thanks for adding your insight.
    Dr. Hitt — I think that it impossible to be great without knowing and identifying your purpose. Thanks for coming by!

  • Added thought… can you articulate and your top 5 values? We talk values a lot, but fiercely focusing on the ones that cause us to weep & wail or jump for joy is difficult.
    My top 5:
    – love/affection: mutual and unconditional respect and caring among family and friends
    – wellness: balance and alignment among all domains (physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, etc)
    – service: stewardship of resources to benefit others
    – happiness: acceptance of what was, what is, and what can be
    – growth: investment in lifelong learning in self and others

  • Angie — thanks for posting your top 5 values. I do not have my values written out in that way, but I think doing so would be valuable. Yours certainly resonate with me. I’ll be glad to share them with you… perhaps in a future blog post?
    I agree that it is easy to get distracted from our values, even well defined and cherished ones. Do you keep yours posted somewhere?
    Thank you for returning. I appreciate you and the way you challenge me to consider this issues!

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