Why CEOs must define their purpose (or suffer because of it)

A statement of purpose is more than a rough guide to life. It's a reassuring anchor when difficult decisions are required
Why CEOs must define their purpose (or suffer because of it)
Tom Young: The first executive and leadership coach in the UAE to attain the Master Certified Coach accreditation from the International Coaching Federation.
By Tom Young
Thu 11 Aug 2016 10:27 AM

A statement of purpose is more than a rough guide to life. It's a reassuring anchor when difficult decisions are required

While it's important to reflect, and not act quickly when under pressure, there comes a time when you must move forward. One of the most successful ways of disciplining one's actions under pressure is by having a powerful purpose statement. This is a declaration that encapsulates your unique gifts. Your passion, what makes you feel alive, or the outcome you wish to create. This statement can be a reassuring anchor when difficult decisions are required.

Here are two statements from arguably the two most successful CEOs in history. For Richard Branson, “to have fun in my journey through life and learn from my mistakes". And Oprah Winfrey, who aims "to be a teacher. And to be known for inspiring my students to be more than they thought they could be".

Both the Virgin Group and the Oprah Winfrey Network are globally renowned for their successful brands, company culture and performance. But Richard Branson doesn't mention airlines or trains. Nor does Oprah Winfrey talk TV channels and entertainment. That's because a personal mission statement is about your identity, not a role. I call these types of leaders 'warriors'.

Typically, organisations are concerned with making profit, and the leaders are accountable for delivering on financial targets. I met a CFO whose purpose statement could not evolve beyond, "ethically making as much money for the company as possible". He is an example of what I call 'soldier' type leader.

The word ‘soldier’ means ‘one who is paid’. A ‘soldier’ is motivated by what he can get out of it (or the 'what's in it for me' attitude. There is a job, role and career focus, but little else in the way of contribution towards the long-term. It is essentially a self-centered approach to work. Soldier leaders are often high-achievers, experts with political savvy, but who remain passive in creating meaningful change in their organisation.

A warrior, on the other hand, is a leader who has taken the time to think deeply, and identify their personal calling.  They have then either articulated it as a statement or now have it 'engraved' internally. This mission or purpose then acts as an authoritative guide to the choices they make, and the actions they take. Nietzsche said, "he who as a why to live can bear almost any how". Warrior leaders recognise their responsibility to create a meaningful sense of meaning for themselves, as well as for the other systems or groups in which they operate.

A warrior grows their capacity to live their purpose in the world. Soldiers tend to be acquisitive in their growth, believing that knowledge increases power. Instead of simply learning more of a narrow subject matter, warriors stretch and test themselves, and so continuously learn in many fields. A soldier may be brave – taking risks and persevering in tough circumstances. But a warrior is brave and also shows courage. Guided by clarity of purpose, what may appear to be a daring decision to an outsider, is a congruent, inevitable step for a warrior leader.

One Dubai-based CEO I work with realised that his purpose was to be the guardian of the company dream. This epiphany gave him the courage to confront his shareholders who were overly preoccupied with numbers.

The key to finding a purpose requires a leader to simplify – to examine and strip away old beliefs – for the sake of something profoundly significant. As Jim Collins describes in his book Good to Great, a leader should be driven by purpose, and their ego satisfied by the success of the company. A good example of this type of warrior is a CEO I work with in Saudi Arabia. His statement has the essence of next-level leadership, “I have honest, meaningful conversations that help my people, my company, my community and my country grow responsibly”.

I believe this type of next-level leadership doesn't stop with the organisation. The desire to serve radiates far beyond the business. These individuals continuously impact on others in multiple ways and spark creativity wherever they may go.

Tom Young is the first executive and leadership coach in the UAE to attain the Master Certified Coach accreditation from the International Coaching Federation. For more information, visithttp://www.springcoaching.biz/ or email tom@springcoaching.biz

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