Function vs meaning
It’s the difference between ‘function’ and ‘meaning’. Leadership without purpose is nothing more than fulfilling a function. We are not here to fulfil functions – I’m worth more than that and I’m damn sure you are too.
Let me give you an example. Several years ago, when I had just been made HR Director at the age of 26, I received a letter from a woman I’d hired as a room cleaner in a previous role. She’d just moved to Canada and her English was very basic. But she was an excellent cleaner and so I offered her the job. I didn’t know it at the time, but the fact I employed her allowed her to sponsor her husband and children to join her. I offered her husband a job as a cleaner as well and, over the years, he worked his way up and became night manager of the hotel. The letter was telling me she was now in a position to leave her job and care for her children full-time, something that would never have been possible had I not taken a chance on her.
It was this letter which made me realise that I’d been looking at my job from a very functional perspective; I’d assumed I was there to hire people. But no, I was giving people an opportunity; an opportunity to live, to raise children, buy homes, gain citizenship, change their lives.
This was a career defining moment and completely changed the way I view people leadership. I had identified my true leadership purpose. From that point on I was not only a leader to fulfil a job and affect profit, I had a bigger purpose. This is what drives me still, why I get up and go to work every day. It’s what helps me be a great, and sustainable, people leader.
When you have purpose, you can achieve so much more. You become an inspiration, the way people view your leadership changes and it becomes much more about what people see you putting out there rather than what you think you’re putting out there.
And it’s this which goes on to define your leadership style. Because it doesn’t matter if you’ve won awards, are achieving results or have followed every leadership model going; it’s how people perceive you, and the impact you’re having on your team, which matters.
So, take your values (and if you don’t have a firm understanding on what these are then read my first column on the subject) and use them to help you define your purpose. If you’re starting out in your career then this may be a little hazy at first, though over the years you will shape them and they will fast become your guiding light. You will stop thinking about work as a ‘job’ and starting seeing it as a place where you can achieve your purpose.