Leadership - On purpose

Hey, Watch What I Can Do!

Often, we mistakenly qualify someone as a leader by their past ability to get themselves places that we want to go rather than their current ability to get us where we need to go.

This is why a great surfer might not be the best person to teach you how to surf, or why the best sales person isn’t always the most effective sales manager.

A leader is someone who can bring you to a place that you would not be able reach without their help.   

Talented individual performers placed in leadership positions often evolve into obnoxious narcissists because the only thing they can do is repeatedly cite their individual accomplishments, or repeatedly demonstrate how well they can do something. “Hey, watch what I can do!” isn’t leadership... it’s irritating.

While a leader's ability to demonstrate performance is useful as a model for excellence, it is not essential for successful leadership.

There are three elements of leadership that overshadow all other skills, attributes, and qualities, and they’re all centered around purpose.


Lead On Purpose

Purpose drives everything. It forms and guides our every thought and action, as well as the thoughts and actions of those we lead.   

If we are to lead powerfully, it’s critical that we continuously remain present to the three purposes that exist in every leadership situation:  The purpose, Their purpose, and Your purpose.

“The purpose” refers to the overarching mission of the group, “Their purpose represents the dreams and goals of the individuals on the team, and “Your purpose” literally answers the question “What’s in it for me?”.  

Your first step as a powerful leader is to demonstrate to those you lead that you can either get them to their own destination faster, or that you can bring them to a better destination if they choose to follow you.

To do this, you’ll need to be an expert in helping others constitute, declare, and nest their purposes within the ultimate purpose of a team.


The purpose

Since my time as a sniper instructor, I’ve had multiple occasions to speak to sports teams. In one instance, a coach asked me how to motivate his 2nd string football players. I replied with a question. “What’s the purpose of having a 2nd string?”. I don’t really know football, but I knew that every team had a 2nd string, so it must be incredibly important for the success of the team.

He looked at me for a few moments. I then asked another question to the entire coaching staff. “What are the chances that if I asked every coach here what the purpose of a 2nd string player is, everyone would answer the same way?” They all agreed it wouldn’t happen.

I went on to explain that if the coaches weren’t all clear as to the purpose of a 2nd string player, and exactly how the 2nd string was absolutely essential to the success of the team, then how could the player get excited about the position and understand how holding that role could help him get where he’s trying to personally go?

It’s obvious that to do a satisfactory job, a player would need to know The purpose of the job, but if they were going to do anything above ordinary, the players would also have to understand how holding that job is critical in getting them to where they want to be.

When you’re leading, it’s important that both you and those you lead are clear on both The purpose and Their purpose every minute of every day. All must also be clear on how The purpose serves Their purpose and how the overarching goals of the organization will clearly help the individual pursue that.


Their purpose

People become unmotivated when they can’t see the link between what they’re currently doing and what they want to be doing.

It's common for a "leader" to understand the overarching mission or purpose of an organization. It is, however, uncommon for them to bother to ask, understand or remember the individual purpose of those on their team.

Oftentimes, leaders don’t ask members of their team about Their purpose because they make the assumption that the purpose of the individual, by default, is the same as the overarching purpose of the organization.  

Seldom do the "purpose stars" align in such a way. This is why, as leaders, we must know how to nest the purposes of those who follow us within the overall mission of the group.


An abstract example:

Let’s say that you lived in California and that you loved ice cream and New York City. You loved these things so much so that you decided that you would make and distribute 100,000 pounds of the stuff to Manhattan every 6 months.

It would be easy to assume and lead as if all of the members of your team also liked ice cream, and wanted to find a way to go to New York. If you’ve been in leadership for any amount of time, you know that the likelihood of having such a team is extremely low… but the simple fact that everyone doesn’t love ice cream and New York City certainly doesn’t mean that you can’t share a common goal.  


Nesting their ambition within yours:

Maybe it's not New York City they want to get to, but if you understand that they need and want to get to Florida, you, as a leader, can help them see how the New York trip is strategic to their ultimate mission.

By simply understanding the individual purposes of those on your team, you can help them see and remember how their efforts to help the team accomplish their mission will help them with their own.  

New York is a lot closer to Florida than California is… Get it?


Your Purpose Is Serving Others

It is frustrating for a leader who is committed to an ultimate outcome, such as growing sales, selling a business for $200M, or distributing 100,000 lbs of ice cream to New York, to have a team full of people who could care less.

The frustration exists when we’ve not transformed from selfish to altruistic. What I mean is that putting your selfish focus in the faces of those you lead is demotivating. How is your goal of selling the business for $200M going to help them?

Too often "Leaders" think it's their job to "Lead" others to produce the outcome desired by the leader.

This upside down and selfish orientation to leadership is weak and ineffective.     

Yes... as a leader you need to be able to utilize your team to get where you need to go, but it is most effective when done by serving those who are following you. This is why having “nested agendas” is critical.

Take our New York ice cream delivery mission. If you're starting in California, it's okay to have people on the team who need to get to Florida and could care less about going to New York.

What’s not okay is for them to only hear you scream "New York or bust!", and leave them believing that you forgot they want to go to Florida. They're not going to be very inspired. In fact, they might even resent you for it.     

Now imagine that same pep rally if you were to scream "New York or bust!", and you gave them a wink, a thumbs up, and mouthed the words "Florida or bust!". They'd follow you even if they hated ice cream. Your job now becomes to serve them with everything they need to get to Florida. That's leadership!


Study Questions: 

Have you ever been dumbfounded by the action of those you've led?

  • Did you know what they were after?

  • Were they after something that nested within your purpose?

  • How would things have been different if you knew the purposes of everyone you worked with?


Eric Davis

Eric Davis served our country as a U.S. Navy SEAL and decorated veteran of the Global War on Terror. Eric has been recognized as one of the premier sniper instructors in the U.S. military and has served as a Master Training Specialist at the SEAL sniper school in Coronado, CA.

He is an expert of technical and physical surveillance and was part of an elite group hand-selected to perform intelligence collection in denied areas around the world.

Eric has spent years developing, writing and executing curriculum for the SEAL Teams. By leveraging his expertise in the development of systems, structures, processes and practices Eric was instrumental in significantly reducing the failure rate, of Naval Special Warfare’s internationally recognized Sniper course. 

Since departing from the SEAL teams, Eric has worked in corporate performance, sales and leadership training bringing an unprecedented amount of innovation, efficiency and structure to the domain of business and performance.