Purpose-driven leaders are on a quest


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The Revelation ConversationFor decades, leadership luminaries such as Abraham Zaleznik and John Kotter have examined the differences between managers and leaders. Managers were labeled with terms like “order” and “consistency,” while leaders were celebrated with terms like “visionary” and “inspirational.” When the lists isolating the differences appeared side-by-side, the contrast communicated that leadership attributes should be a manager’s aspirational goal.

I was always struck by three things: First, the leadership column was the most popular and the one with which most of my peers aligned themselves. Second, it was not zero-sum (you were either a manager or a leader). Traits from both lists applied to the manager-leader. And third, it was possible to develop management and leadership qualities to strengthen one’s ability to manage or lead others.

Over the course of my career, I observed that results-driven managers were often associated with competency—the ability to do something successfully or efficiently, while purpose-driven leaders were often associated with a quest—a search for something that is difficult to find; an attempt to achieve something difficult, perhaps even impossible. While the term “competency” conjures up words like consistency, execution, predictability, uniformity, and quality that are associated with management, the term “quest” evokes words like adventure, chase, crusade, expedition, hunt, inquiry, uncharted, journey, pursuit, and mission that are associated with leadership.

It’s true that most organizations are overmanaged and underled. For that reason, the focus of my consulting work has been to develop leadership priorities, specifically, as they pertain to revealing the total job role, connecting employees’ daily work activities to an enduring organizational purpose, and inspiring greater employee engagement.

If you were to organize the priorities for both results-driven managers and purpose-driven leaders through this lens, it looks like this:

Results-driven Managers

  • emphasize job functions and competency (the WHAT and HOW of the job role)
  • define the totality of a job role according to WHAT the employee is expected to know (job knowledge) and HOW the employee is expected to perform (job skills)
  • link employees’ job responsibilities to a formal job description (WHAT and HOW)
  • value policies, procedures, protocol, processes, checklists, and budgets
  • make and enforce rules
  • have a vague awareness of the corporate mission, vision, or purpose statement and core values
  • have not considered the difference between one’s purpose in life and her purpose at work
  • make decisions irrespective of the organization’s core values
  • compare actual results to desired targets, noting outcomes that meet, exceed, or fall short of expectations
  • provide occasional feedback on performance pertaining to WHAT the employees does and HOW she does it
  • monitor the achievement of objective goals and key performance indicators (KPIs)
  • oversee a work environment where a majority of the workgroup is not engaged, where many are bored
  • hold group pre-shift and department meetings

Purpose-driven Leaders

  • emphasize job essence and the quest (the WHY of the job role)
  • define the totality of a job role according to WHAT the employee is expected to know (job knowledge), HOW the employee is expected to perform (job skills), and WHY the employee’s job role exists (job purpose)
  • connect employees’ daily work activities to the purpose of their job role (WHY)
  • value enthusiasm, energy, individual flair, uniqueness, creativity, and positivity
  • articulate, communicates, and models core values
  • are fluent in the corporate mission, vision, or purpose statement and core values
  • are aware that one’s purpose in life may have little to do with her purpose at work
  • make decisions that are aligned with the organization’s core values
  • tally purposeful actions and behaviors and correlates this performance with aspirational targets to demonstrate movement, momentum, and progress toward the team’s aspirational goal
  • provide regular feedback on performance pertaining to WHAT the employee does, HOW she does it, and, importantly, WHY she does it
  • inspire movement, momentum, and progress toward the organization’s purpose and the collective pursuit of the team’s aspirational goal
  • lead a work environment where a majority of the team is engaged, where most are on board
  • initiate one-on-one Revelation Conversations. (A Revelation Conversation is a performance management tool used to reveal the total job role, connect employees’ daily work activities to the purpose of their job role, and inspire greater employee engagement.)

As mentioned, it’s not zero-sum (you are either a result-driven manager or a purpose-driven leader); you can exhibit qualities of both archetypes. The opportunity for most, whose strengths and habits are rooted in management priorities, is to expand their leadership capabilities. Purpose-driven leaders don’t ignore employees’ competency, policies, procedures, rules, and budgets. And they likely compare actual performance to desired results and hold group meetings. Similarly, results-driven managers likely appreciate enthusiastic employees and may also model core values.

It’s a bit like the tendencies of people who demonstrate a preference for introversion versus extroversion. Whereas introverts get their energy by spending time alone or with smaller groups of friends, extroverts are energized by socializing in larger groups of people and having many friends. That doesn’t mean that introverts don’t attend parties or that extroverts don’t stay home and read a book on occasion. It’s simply a generalization about tendencies, preferences, and the resulting perceptions formed by others over time.

In my book, The Revelation Conversation: Inspire Greater Employee Engagement by Connecting to Purpose, I detail how readers can develop the qualities of a purpose-driven leader. Even for an effective results-driven manager, there are incalculable benefits to adopting the practices of a purpose-driven leader. Imagine improving upon the results you are accustomed to achieving as they pertain to customer satisfaction, employee engagement, financial success, or other factors, by adding a few tools to your repertoire.

Importantly, these tools do not require you to be something you’re not. Asking an introvert to gain energy by attending a bustling networking event is a bad idea. It won’t work. But what harm can come from suggesting that a results-driven manager, who is aloof from the company’s mission statement and core values, become fluent in these corporate ideals? Unless the manager, the company’s mission statement, and/or its core values lack credibility with employees based on their daily work experience, how can managers not benefit from this effort? Is an hour spent in another meeting a better use of their time?

These may be rhetorical questions for now, but they will soon be answered in the data collected from customer satisfaction and employee engagement surveys, P&L statements, and productivity reports. I can say from experience that, with the exception perhaps of serving customers directly, there is no better use of your time at work than to become fluent in corporate ideals. This intelligence can then be used to reveal employees’ total job role, connect their daily work activities to an enduring organizational purpose, and inspire the collective pursuit of a common aspirational goal.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Steve Curtin
Steve Curtin is the author of Delight Your Customers: 7 Simple Ways to Raise Your Customer Service from Ordinary to Extraordinary. He wrote the book to address the following observation: While employees consistently execute mandatory job functions for which they are paid, they inconsistently demonstrate voluntary customer service behaviors for which there is little or no additional cost to their employers. After a 20-year career with Marriott International, Steve now devotes his time to speaking, consulting, and writing on the topic of extraordinary customer service.


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