What Fuels Your Leadership…Power or Purpose?

A few weeks back I had the pleasure to attend a “Tiger Talk” hosted by Innovate New Albany (in New Albany, Ohio), given by Barry Chandler of Storyforge. Barry gave an enlightening talk about what drives the world’s most successful brands. I’ll cut to the chase: it’s not profit that drives these successful companies; rather it is a defined, shared purpose that benefits ALL stakeholders: customers, employees, partners, and investors alike.

I was reminded by that lesson last Friday during a weekly group session of Nos Lumine, at Catholic Business Network of which I am a member. Our weekly lesson involved issues that drive individual leadership decisions and actions–and it got me thinking: When it comes down to it, a leader can only be driven by one or the other; he or she can only be driven by power, or purpose.

So, what do we mean by power? One driven by power is politically-minded. After all, politics, by its nature, is simply the pursuit of temporal power (an earthly power over other people in some capacity). One’s position within an organization or community usually determines this (and that position itself is often determined by a wide range of factors–money being only one of them).

A leader who is driven by power will often:

  • be quick to take the credit, but avoid the blame
  • not hesitate to throw others “under the bus”
  • be territorial, and see colleagues not in terms of assets, but as threats
  • make decisions and take actions based upon how it serves their own personal interests over that of the organization.

On the other side, a leader who is driven by purpose is less personally ambitious, but sees him- or herself more as a servant. That’s where the idea of servant-leadership comes from. They are not in their position to merely enrich themselves, but to help all stakeholders (their employees, customers, investors, partners, etc.). A leader who is driven by purpose will typically:

  • accept responsibility for those under him, as well as the outcomes they produce (includes admitting when wrong)
  • be a teacher or mentor to others, preparing them to assume his position should circumstances dictate
  • be a better listener, with empathy, understanding, but firmness as well
  • make decisions and take actions based upon the greater good and shared purpose

Between these two polar opposites, where might you stand? Chances are, if you’re an imperfect human, it is somewhere in the middle (but hopefully leaning toward purpose). Indeed, many leaders have used “the greater good” to rationalize decisions that are merely about self-preservation (“If I can’t stay in this position, I won’t be able to fulfill our purpose…”). The truth is, for the vast majority of us, none of us have perfectly pure hearts. But it does help to keep this “scale” in front of us. It never hurts to be mindful of our motives.

If you disagree or have a different perspective, your comments are welcome!

Click here if you’d like to have a peak of Barry Chandler’s presentation at Innovate New Albany.

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