What does a great leader look like on the inside and why is it important? In this five-part series, we will be looking at “Great Leadership from the Inside Out” … because what is within you as a leader determines what comes out of your leadership.
Great leaders are purposeful. But that statement really does not go far enough: great leaders are purpose-driven. They are 100% committed to leading well. They are all-in emotionally. They pursue the development of their skills and abilities. They see their work as a calling and get energy from it. James Sipe and Don Frick describe it this way in their classic book Seven Pillars of Servant Leadership: “Robert Greenleaf articulated two fundamental dimensions of leadership. The first, and best known, is the desire to serve. The second is the desire to serve something beyond or greater than oneself – what he called a ‘higher purpose.’ We prefer the word calling. Every person has a calling – a passionate lure to the highest level of fulfillment.”
The Latin word “vocare” means “to call” and it is where we get our word “vocation.” Great leaders view their role and responsibilities as a vocation – something they are called to engage in, not just something they do for a paycheck.
With that in mind, let’s consider two definitions of “vocation,” courtesy of Merriam-Webster. The first is “a summons or strong inclination to a particular state or course of action.” This describes people who naturally “fit” their role as a leader. That does not mean they were born with all the skills they need to lead well (proficiency only comes with training and practice), but that when they are leading others they are in their element. Leading is an affirmation of and an expression of their best self. Their calling to lead infiltrates all aspects of their life, guiding their thought processes, their choices, their words, and their behaviors.
If this describes you, awesome! You have the incredible opportunity to make your career by living out what you love doing most.
Here’s the challenge: many – possibly even most – of the men and women whom we work with each day do not have that deep sense of calling as a leader. Perhaps they rose to their position through a steady series of promotions. They might have been a technical expert who was elevated to leadership. There could have been was a gap that someone had to fill, so they volunteered or were “volun-told” to fill it.
The reasons may differ, but the net result is the same: these are people who have a leadership role and leadership responsibilities in their company, but they do not think of themselves first and foremost as a leader. It does not define them. Leading might not come naturally at all. They may struggle with “imposter syndrome” every day.
If this describes you, you may feel somewhat deflated or even defeated. Don’t be. The second definition of “vocation” is meant for you. It is simply this: “the work in which a person is employed.” In other words, you have a calling to be a leader simply because you are in a position of leadership. It is your work and your vocation.
And here is the tremendous truth – you can be a great leader even if leading is not your core passion or defining characteristic. The key is found in the words we quoted earlier; it is “the desire to serve something beyond or greater than oneself … a ‘higher purpose.’”
To find your higher purpose as a leader, ask yourself, “What is my ‘why’? What is the greater good I want to achieve in my role?” Perhaps it is building a team characterized by trust and mutuality. Maybe it is helping your direct reports grow their skills. It could be the development of a new product or service. When you identify the greater good that you can commit yourself to wholeheartedly, leading well becomes a way of fulfilling that higher purpose. It provides a framework within which you can find your motivation to increase your leadership skills and your energy to put forth your best efforts. You may or may not experience self-actualization because of your role as a leader, but you can experience it by pressing forward to accomplish the higher purpose you have set before you as your lodestar.
Whether leading is an innate part of your being or a role that does not always seem to be a perfect fit, it is your vocation if you find yourself in a leadership position. To become a great leader, take the time to identify the higher purpose you can claim as your own and in which you can find your highest level of fulfillment – because great leadership works from the inside out.