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The purpose of leadership

The Purpose of Leadership

We sometimes forget what the true purpose of leadership is. It’s not to entertain your people during their working hours, and it’s not to focus on helping them to live their best lives.

The higher up you go in any organization, the less you can achieve yourself, and the more you need to rely on those in your organization—below, beside, and above you. That’s why for me, the true objective for any leader should be to create a constructive, high-performance culture.

Everything you do as a leader either adds to or detracts from the culture of your team. And the simple fact is: Leadership drives culture; Culture drives performance.

Culture can be defined simply as “the way we do things around here”. It’s the behavioral and performance norms that determine how a team operates.

Regardless of whether you’ve consciously set out to develop the culture, or the culture has just grown organically, every team has a culture, and that culture is set by the leader.

This means the ultimate objective for any leader is to influence his or her people in a way that ensures everyone does the right work, in the right way, with the right intent.

We see what happens to teams that don’t have the right culture throughout. And it’s a direct reflection on you as a leader.

At the end of my 5-year tenure at CS Energy, I felt as though I’d done as much as I could, and the performance turnaround was undeniably impressive, even if I do say so myself.

But in terms of the culture, there was still so much left to do. I’d walk through the offices of the company, I’d look at certain teams, and I could genuinely say, “there wouldn’t be a better culture anywhere on the planet than that team has…”.

But then, there were other teams I’d walk past, and I would be incredibly embarrassed to think that that team was part of the organization that I’d been leading for 5 years.

Why? Because culture is so dependent on the individual leader: How strong are they? Do they set high standards for performance and behavior? Do they stretch their people? Do they spend time challenging / coaching / and confronting? Do they empower people to deliver on their accountabilities?

Ultimately, the goal for any leader is to create the right environment for their people to produce their best work, and deliver the most value they possibly can for the organization.

So don’t mistake “culture” as being in any way soft, or touchy-feely.

Creating the right environment for people to deliver implies that every leader is driving relentlessly towards a high-performance culture. For this to happen, you need four things:

  1. The first is you have to be able to connect with your people on a personal level. Teddy Roosevelt put it best when he said, “No one cares how much you know until they know how much you care.”
  2. The second is, you have to truly understand what caring means. You have to care enough about people to be honest with them, to stretch them, and to demand their best: even when that’s uncomfortable.
  3. The third is, you need to set high standards for behavior and performance.
  4. And finally, you have to show people that the leadership of the organization is serious about its duty of care, taking accountability for your people’s welfare.

Through all of this, the object of the exercise is to create a culture of consistent performance excellence.

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