Follow These 7 Steps to Grow as A Purpose-Driven Leader

July 2, 2019

According to Google, there are 208,000,000 articles on how to grow as a leader. This isn’t one of those articles. Rather, it’s a mini-guide complete with plenty of research and resources to help you take practical steps to develop your leadership skills.

What is purpose-driven leadership?

Purpose-driven leaders tap into the intrinsic motivations inside themselves and those around them. According to ground-breaking research from Imperative, purpose-driven leaders are the most effective at advancing their own careers while making the world better. They also inspire their teams to achieve extraordinary results for reasons other than money. As our global economy shifts towards a more inclusive model that is not destroying the planet, purpose-driven leaders are the ones creating more responsible businesses and products, and mobilizing the best employees to contribute towards something greater than profits. And the demand for purpose-driven leaders is growing, because it’s good for business, too. According to a report from EY on this very topic, “…getting purpose right builds organizational resilience and, crucially, improves long-term financial performance”. So even companies behind the curve on sustainability initiatives are now realizing that they need purpose-driven leaders more than ever before.

So what does the research say about how you can actually grow as a purpose-driven leader?

The research is pretty clear on this topic: If you want to grow as an empathetic and purpose-driven leader, you need experience leading. Period.

But not all experiences are created equal: in fact, it’s less about the type of leadership experience you get and more about what you do during your experience that helps you grow as a leader.

Follow these 7 steps, inspired by transformative learning processes, to help you grow into the purpose-driven leader you’re capable of being:

Step #1: Set goals, write them down, and tell a friend.

Don’t skip step #1! In fact, the best leaders over-invest in this stage. Write down your goals using a SMART format. Once you’ve got your main goals, copy them onto a sticky note and place it somewhere you’ll see it often. Then, tell a friend and/or mentor about your goals. Simply doing both of these steps will increase the likelihood that you will achieve those goals (research proves it).

Step #2: Better understand yourself

Most people don’t know their own leadership style nearly as well as they might think. If you’re going to grow as a leader, you first have to know where to grow from. These 3 simple steps will help:

  1. Talk to your friends and colleagues and ask them for honest responses to three questions, known as the stop, keep, start method: What are the leadership qualities you should stop exhibiting, keep exhibiting, and start exhibiting?
  2. Understand your purpose drivers and what motivates you to lead. The Purpose Economy and Imperative Assessment can help you understand this better. As a primer, read Imperative’s Purpose-Driven Leadership eBook.
  3. Think about the work you do that actually makes you come alive. Dan Pink’s video presentation about motivation and book about Drive will add a lot of clarity to your search.

Step #3: Build on your strengths

Growing as a leader is hard work, and it’ll take a lot of hard work to get there. You’ll expose yourself to lots of questions, self-doubt, and even isolation. That’s why it’s important to build your leadership style on your strengths. How? I recommend reading about Strengths Based Leadership after taking StrengthsFinder. Figure out the type of leadership strengths you already have, and build on those. After deciding on this and getting your baseline, you might want to go back to Step #1 to check-in on your goals and update them as needed.

Step #4: Learn new concepts

The more you lead, the less technical know-how you need. Instead, you need to get better at using frameworks that help other people succeed and make a lasting impact. For this, there is no better framework than design thinking with a human-centered lens. Improving your ability to empathize, understand problems, be creative, develop lean solutions, and then test & learn is essential to being effective as a leader. Leaders don’t provide tactical solutions, but rather they improve the processes and systems that enable their teams to be effective and develop their own solutions. In addition, improving your people skills through exercises like peer-based coaching and empathy-building is essential.

Step #5: Get a stretch experience

This step is actually the keystone of your growth. If you want to lead at the next level, you have to get practice leading at the next level. As we published in Harvard Business Review, social impact experiences offer an incredible opportunity to stretch yourself to learn and grow. But a word of caution here: Remember that any experience is better than no experience. Don’t stress about finding the perfect opportunity or delay finding an opportunity in search of something perfect. Any stretch experience will help you learn and grow, but it is worth taking the time to try and align your experience in a way that builds on your strengths, while still stretching you to grow.

Step #6: Reflect, practice, and then reflect some more

99% of people skip this step, which is a mistake! To truly grow, you’ll need to be part of the 1% that doesn’t. Reflection is actually where future behavior change happens. The science behind this is fascinating. Practice and reflection help build and strengthen neural networks in your brain, which enables you to actually develop your skills and change your behavior. At MovingWorlds, we teach a framework we call Think Back, Think Through, Think Forward to reflect on your experiences in a way that helps you understand the way you acted, decide on what you should have done, and then plan ahead for how you’ll act next time.

Step #7: Record your learning and teach-back

To teach is to learn twice. Find some way to teach others what you have learned. This can be done through a blog post, your own portfolio website, a presentation at a local event, or by transferring these very skills to groups that you volunteer with or mentor. We always recommend that every participant in our leadership development programs keeps a consistent personal journal as well as a public-facing blog to document their experience. And while it’s never easy to condense all your learning into a short-form post, going through the process of condensing something into a short presentation will help you better understand what’s most important, yourself, and what steps you should take next.

In Summary

Growing as a leader is hard, and often it’s lonely. But if you follow these 7 steps, you’ll tap into your potential to make the world a better place:

Step #1: Set goals, write them down, and tell a friend.
Step #2: Better understand yourself
Step #3: Build on your strengths
Step #4: Learn new concepts
Step #5: Get a stretch experience
Step #6: Reflect, practice, and then reflect some more
Step #7: Record your learning and teach-back

As you start down this path, my best piece of advice is to first find a community that will partner with you in growth. Find a friend, tap into your professional network, or join a community (like the MovingWorlds Institute Global Fellowship) so that you have the support and accountability to flourish.

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