Be a Leader With a Purpose

copyright 2009, West Michigan Business Review

The story of Maya Angelou`s life is a great lesson for us all. Raised mainly by her grandmother, she was raped at age eight by a family friend. She told her brother what happened, and the man who raped her came up dead a few days later. Because Maya thought she was responsible for the man`s death, she chose to stop talking for five years. She became pregnant and gave birth during high school.

Yet Maya Angelou went on to do many wonderful things in her life. She is known as an author, a poet, a civil rights activist, a dancer and a singer (among other things). Her grandmother encouraged her to “celebrate life to the fullest.”
Ms. Angelou learned her grandmother`s lessons well and managed to rise above the circumstance of her early years to affect an entire nation. I have no doubt that her success in life has to do with a purpose ?€“ something she deeply believes in that drives her daily life.

I`ve heard that 95 percent of business promotions are based on results and performance, yet results only account for 10 percent of the reasons that people follow a leader. The most common reason given for following is a leader`s character. This might be part of the reason that, today, people have a hard time naming leaders they respect. Let me help.

Can you name three Nobel Prize winners? It`s rare that anyone can name one winner, much less three. Yet if I ask you to name three people who inspired, challenged and supported you, I`ll bet with some reflection, you will be able to recall those individuals.

The point is that we have long memories about people who have touched us emotionally and influenced our lives. For those of you who are striving to be the best leaders that you can be, this is the kind of impact you want to make. I`m pretty sure that those people who inspired and supported you were leaders who had a purpose in their lives that they also expressed in their leadership.

Many leaders go through life without identifying what is important to them. Life sweeps them away in the busy-ness of everyday living. Yet a life with a purpose provides an anchor that can give stability to someone through the toughest of times. A purpose is a solid place to visit when tough decisions need to be made, or when frustration or disappointment is high.

There is a fair amount of literature written by psychologists and consultants indicating that success is attained and sustained by those who exhibit resilience. A sense of purpose seems to me to be foundational for resilience. Finding your purpose may or may not come easily, but a leader MUST have a sense of it in order to be successful in these tough times.

I am a former executive in a Fortune 100 company. I have owned and operated an executive coaching firm since 2003 called Aspire Collaborative Services LLC. We partner with great leaders to help them become even greater at developing, improving, and sustaining relationships with the people who are essential to their success. This blog is for leaders and those who help them to be more intentional about relationships at work. My top personal values include respect for others, kindness, compassion, collaboration and gratitude. I work very hard at practicing my values daily and when I don’t succeed, I practice some more. I am married with two wonderful daughters and two spoiled pugs.