Do You Know Why You Lead?

When was the last time, if ever, you asked yourself the question:

“Why do I lead?”

Notice I did not ask how you lead or what you lead, I asked WHY you lead. What is the ultimate outcome or purpose that drives you to carry on despite the many challenges that accompany leadership?

If you don’t know the answer to that question, maybe it’s time you put some thought into it. The answer matters because it will manifest itself in the choices you make about priorities and the ways you interact with the human beings you encounter every day. The answer matters because without a strong, internal compass to guide us, we easily, and often subtly, drift off course. And when leaders drift off course, the consequences can be…well “Titanic”.

Another reason to know your “why” is so that you can lose your title without losing yourself. Think for a moment about how you would feel, if tomorrow, you were removed from your position of authority. Would you cease to be a leader until someone gives you a new title? Leadership is not defined by what you are responsible for, it is defined by who you are. If your leadership identity is in the role then you will be lost when the role comes to an end. As all things do.

Your “why” will give you courage to carry on. Name a great leader. I bet they faced adversity. And I bet you know their “why”.

Consider this…your “why” may be the only reason people will actually allow you to influence them. People have a keen sense for what the underlying motives are in leaders. Over time they do a pretty good job of figuring out what you are really about. If your “why” is grounded in love, service and mutual success then there is a pretty good chance you will be heard. Getting that next promotion? Not so much.

So why do you lead?

I lead to improve lives. That’s my “why”. It works for me because it always applies no matter the context or circumstance. I’ve greatly simplified it over the years but that has always been the core theme. I don’t always live up to it but I always come back to it. I make sure to let people know what I’m about. Your why may read much differently or contain a lot more words and ideas. There is no right answer. There is only your answer. The important thing…

Is that you have an answer.

As an exercise I recommend you get a notebook and write as many endings to this stem as you can think of, as fast as you can, without stopping or judging. Read back through the list to find a core theme that resonates with your heart and your mission.

I lead because…

Now you have a “why” that is bigger than any job, title or opinion. A “why” that is bigger…than you. Care to share?

Purpose is the place where your deep gladness meets the world’s needs. – Frederick Buechner


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