Got Purpose? Leadership as a Form of Purposeful Expression

"You have everything you need to build something far bigger than yourself."
Seth Godin

   As a lifelong student of leadership, I spend a lot of time seeking out ideas, opinions and perspectives that stretch my understanding and challenge my assumptions about what it takes to succeed as a leader in today’s dynamic, fast-paced world. One of the philosophers I’ve come across in my journey of exploration is Ayn Rand. I’m particularly fond of this quote:

   “Man’s mind is his basic tool of survival. Life is given to him, survival is not. His body is given to him, its sustenance is not. His mind is given to him, its content is not. To remain alive he must act and before he can act he must know the nature and purpose of his actions.”

   These wise words highlight something common to each of us. Namely, we are created as unique individuals who share a desire to lead lives of purpose, meaning and significance. And though no two people’s journey is exactly alike, we all strive to make our mark on the world. We want our presence to be felt. 

   We need to know we’ve made a difference.

   The challenge, however, is that in moving through the journey we call life it’s easy to allow our uniqueness to be crowded out. Yes, I said allow. After all, no one can tell us how to lead our lives. Sure, they can make demands, they can levy expectations and they can try to dictate virtually every step we take. But we must not lose sight that the ultimate decider of the path we take is us, plain and simple. Only we can choose to abandon the pursuit of our deepest longings in order to blend in with the crowd, content to allow the status quo to have its way with us. So what can we do to help ourselves stay grounded, focused and true to those ideals and beliefs we profess to hold dearest? I recommend developing what I term, a personal purpose statement.

   A personal purpose statement is a simple, yet important step in aligning our attitudes with our actions. It’s what puts steel in our spine when we find ourselves facing choices that are inconvenient, uncomfortable, or just plain unsettling. It’s what gives us the strength to persevere when doubts are high and confidence is low. And it serves as a compass we can count on to lead us through the twists and turns of life in a way that protects us from ending up far from our desired destination. 

   For the sake of giving you a deeper understanding of what I’m describing, I’ve listed my personal purpose statement below. I look at it every morning as I spend a few minutes in quiet reflection, preparing to launch into the new day with a replenished reservoir of moral courage and renewed resolve to fight for what I believe is worth fighting for in my life:
 - Every day I will be thankful for the many
 - blessings that surround me;
 - I will keep my feet moving along the path set before me;
 - My hands busy with the opportunities provided me;
 - My heart open to serving those around me; and
 - My eyes focused on eternity.

   As you can see, such a statement doesn’t have to be lengthy. Nor does it have to be complex. What’s important is that you take the time to capture in a few brief sentences the thoughts which will ultimately equip you to make choices that are consistent with your values instead of convenient to your situation. 

   Remember, we cannot lead well merely by copying others. To add beauty to the world we must know the nature and purpose of the actions we plan to take. After all, leadership is a personal expression of who we are, inside and out. It’s a reflection to others of what we are willing to fight for in our lives and it begins by having a definite understanding of our purpose.  So as I wrap up, I have two quick questions for you?

  • Do you know what purpose, cause or campaign you are willing to fight for in your life?
  • Have you taken the time to reflect and capture your personal purpose statement?

 If the answer to either of these questions is no, then let me encourage you to take some time to reflect on how you can better share your true you, your best you, with those around you by developing a clear sense of personal purpose. I think you’ll find it will not only improve your leadership effectiveness, but will also multiply your influence, increase your satisfaction, and enhance your ability to lead a life of true purpose, meaning and significance—one opportunity at a time. 

Purpose -

John E. Michel is a widely recognized expert in culture, strategy & individual and organizational change. An accomplished unconventional leader and proven status quo buster, he has successfully led several multi-billion dollar transformation efforts and his award-winning work has been featured in a wide variety of articles and journals, including the Harvard Business Review. John enjoys helping people learn to walk differently in the world so they can become the best version of themselves possible and is married to the most patient person on the planet. Together, they are blessed with two amazing sons. You are encouraged to learn more about John at his website,