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Why Leaders Must Demonstrate Clarity of Purpose
In business, you’ll find plenty of people (including leaders) who are perfectly content with the status quo.
The status quo may be comfortable, but the world won’t stop innovating just because you do.
And you’ll find many more people who focus on improving efficiency, striving to do exactly what they’ve always done, only faster.
There’s nothing wrong with improving efficiency – in fact, it’s good to regularly assess process efficiencies and improve them where you can – but there’s a limit to what efficiency improvement can do.
Around the turn of the twentieth century, you could have put all your energies into developing a better suspension for a horse-drawn carriage, but you couldn’t ignore the rise of the bicycle and soon after, the automobile. In other words, efficiency improvements are generally good, but sometimes innovation becomes necessary. Leaders who demonstrate clarity of purpose facilitate innovation better. Here’s how.
Answer “Why Are We Here?” Before Asking, “How Can We Do It Better?”
Before you can innovate, you need to ask and answer the question: “Why are we here?” For example, if you operate a hairstyling salon, the answer may be, “We’re here to help people look better and be more confident.” Can you answer the question of why your business exists in plain, simple language?
Because only when you know your purpose can you discover ways to do it better, whether that’s by improving efficiencies, or by creating a disruptive innovation. Innovations can come from any aspect of your business, from how you communicate with suppliers to your procedure for choosing contractors to how you market your business.
What Does a Strong Sense of Purpose Accomplish?
A strong sense of purpose in a leader doesn’t mean there’s no debate or discussion surrounding progress and options. It does mean that when an innovative course of action is chosen, everyone is likelier to get on board and work toward common goals. It can’t happen if there is confusion about purpose, and it’s up to leaders to clarify and articulate purpose for team members.
Clarity of purpose helps create a culture of innovation at all organizational levels. It helps people generate and develop ideas that have a meaningful impact. Clarity of purpose can also facilitate external collaboration, whether with technology partners, suppliers, or customers. More importantly, leadership with clarity of purpose helps employees think differently and act differently, helping the organization understand when it’s time to break out of the status quo.
Purpose-driven, innovative culture can transform relationships with suppliers and contractors too.
How to Facilitate a Purpose-Driven Culture
Naturally, strong leadership is necessary for a purpose-driven organization, and leadership development programs and leadership coaching help develop this strong leadership.
Innovative, purpose-driven leaders allow team members appropriate levels of autonomy and flexibility in their work. When team members feel like little more than cogs in a machine, what reason do they have to go above and beyond? But when they are trusted with autonomy to do what they do and develop better ways of doing it (whether through process improvements or innovations), they’re likelier to treat their job as a means of pursuing excellence.
And creating a purpose-driven culture means communicating key values at every stage of employment, starting with the employee recruiting process. Employees that are strongly connected to a sense of purpose at work are likelier to stay around, so it’s important to communicate purpose and the value of purpose-driven work even at the earliest stages of employee recruitment.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, leaders must themselves understand the importance of purpose. They must understand the company’s purpose and be able to articulate it in many different settings and situations. Leadership development programs must be undergirded with a strong sense of purpose, and in some cases, leadership coaching must help leaders develop a strong sense of purpose.
Knowing why you do what you do is the first step in finding ways to do it better. In some cases, “doing it better” leads to innovation and even disruption. Change wrought by innovation can be disconcerting at times, but the alternative – stagnation – is far worse over the long term. I encourage you to check out my books, particularly Cultural Transformations: Lessons of Leadership and Corporate Reinvention, which covers corporate culture development and how to meet the many leadership challenges it involves.