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How purpose leadership can help shape the future

What does it mean to develop leadership in such a way that it no longer chases short-term goals and is controlled externally, but instead has a deeper meaning?  In other words, how can you develop purposeful leadership and start shaping the future?

Julia von Winterfeldt, SOULWORX

These were the questions I asked Julia von Winterfeldt. Julia is the founder and managing director of SOULWORX, a purpose & strategy collective for executives, teams and entire organizations. Julia’s and SOULWORX’s mission is to awaken executives to find and live their authentic selves with the higher aim of developing the world of work in order to work better for people and companies as a whole.

Thomas:  What is purposeful leadership?

Julia:    Purposeful leadership for me is the ability to follow what your heart’s desire is.  Therefore it is leading something and attracting followers around something that is of meaning or has a meaningful direction. So you’re so infused by what you believe is necessary to be put into this world.  You lead the way.  And you may inspire others to partake in this meaningful direction,too.

Thomas: Okay, so let’s say I’m leading a team or a business unit and I have been working for this company for twenty years and everything so far worked out fine.  Does this mean I have been practicing purposeful leadership?

Julia:    Well I would add the notion of what is the meaningful direction in that? So what are you actually leading towards? What is the reason that you’re taking yourself and others towards this? So, if you just say I have been leading a team and I have done that in a great way, that wouldn’t be sufficient for me. I’d like to then understand what it is that you and your team are contributing to? What’s their reason for them to believe as a team that they want to join and go towards what?

Thomas: If a leader has always been results-driven and has actually delivered on his promises, in other words he has been very successful, helped generate huge EBITs, would you say that this traditional leadership model is outdated?  If so, what has changed or what hasn’t changed?

Julia:    Yes.  See, EBIT is not the reason to do something.  It’s the result of doing something. What has changed I think is that we’re recognizing different dynamics happening, whether there’s digitalization, whether it’s interconnectivity, globalization, whether there’s climate change that we need to have a stronger stand for, how we can participate in serving or solving these global dynamics. What has changed in my view is that leadership is or needs to become still more synchronized with a larger dynamics than just what is happening within their organization beyond EBIT or financial results.

Thomas: Let’s say I’m interested in purposeful leadership even though I am sowmehat skeptical, but still want to try it. Where do I start?

Julia:    With yourself. I would first want to understand what are you skeptical about? Do you think purposeful leadership is a message? No.  Is purposeful leadership a thing to believe in? Yes.  So, if you are skeptical because you do not know what it is then the first question that you could deal with is to understand why you’re in this role that you have today, what is driving you in this role? 
For example, you might say, “I’ve been in the automotive business now for twenty years, so that’s what I’m good at.” Okay, that’s great. Now let’s go one step further:  why did you stay there for twenty years? “Because I know the industry quite well.”  The next question could be, why you are staying in this industry for so long.  You might explain that this is so because you are good at it or because you like the people or you have now reached a position where you could have more power. Then I could pick up the point you made of having more power.  A question could be, what’s the impact that you are actually having with this power? What do you think your able to do in this place or in your position of power?  If the answer is, “well, we’re making more money”, or, “I’m helpng the company become bigger, larger, more influential”, I would challenge you and ask which stakeholder you are actually doing this for.  If you explain it is basically for the financial stakeholders, I would that’s not enough.

I think that it’s time now to take your mind in that power of position towards further stakeholders and to know how your actually impacting not only your clients, not just your customers, not just your financial stakeholders but maybe the communities, obviously the employees but the community beyond that or even maybe the general public.
What is it that your are contributing to that could potentially give the starting point to think about the role that you have and the benefit of that role and how you could have even more power in a positive way to have an impact in what you are doing?

Thomas:  Let’s say I have found my purpose or personal driving force, but I cannot change my role. How can I change the environment when I’m practicing purposeful leadership?  What impact can I expect from this or what impact can other people expect from this?  How can they see if it’s any different?

Julia:    Well my assumption would be what generally happens is when you’re in sync with your purpose, you either want to talk about it more or start leading your life differently.

Let’s keep it to your working environment, you start to lead from the perspective of your purpose.  You know what you really believe in, what you bring into the world.  The first thing that you should be changing is the way that you’re talking about yourself and the reason why you’re in this role. 

The second thing is that you align not only the goals of your role around this purpose but also the goals of the team. You seek to answer, why you are doing something  and how you are able to impact that, what goals you want to set for yourselves to get to the larger why, or to the higher reason for doing this. So that could be a second change within the working environment. 

The third thing could be the way that you work based on the purpose that you as an individual and then hopefully your team are also starting to follow. Then maybe the values that you’ve held so far may change, too, and align with the purpose. 

Let me give you an example.  The value of having more courage, the way you execute on this courage becomes a different, has a different finality or has a different sense. So maybe the values don’t change as much as the you execute on these values. 

And, last but not least, maybe the way you actually create the products in start to change. 

So I think what I’m trying to convey is it’s not going to be something that’s suddenly now that you’ve found your purpose the next day it’s going to be completely different. I think it starts to manage itself in and the first definitely way of recognizing this is in communication. The way that you hold yourself, the way that you describe yourself will change because you have now come to recognize ‘wow, now I know why I am here in this role, how I can contribute in this role and I’m going to start to talk about in a different way than I have been leading or working my role up until now.

Thomas:  Okay one of the questions, a personal question is how did you find your purpose?

Julia:    I actually joined the True Purpose Institute in San Francesco and let myself be coached in finding my purpose.  It was an eight month journey and I’m basically took myself both from an ego and an intuitive perspective though this process.  I knew that if I have the answers from an ego perspective and then from an intuitive perspective I will be able to clarify both in my logical mind as well as in my intuitive mind what my purpose is. 

What you need to go through during this process is to undo all of the conditioning, all of the limiting beliefs that you have or the fears that you have to go through, that pain and shadow work, in order to let emerge what is really in you that you have covered up or don’t want to look at anymore or never realized you had, to allow what’s in you to really come out and express itself.

Note:  This interview is part of my new book “Being Human in a Digital Age” to be published in 2020 in Germany.  If you like to read excerpts of the book join my “Being Human” Facebook group.  

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3 Most Common Barriers Keeping Conscious Business Leaders on the Hamster Wheel

[originally published in the Huffington Post on 25 Nov 2016]

If there ever was a time to realize creative potential inside companies it is now. A quick look at the top issues facing companies of all sizes reveals the usual short list: attracting and retaining talent, managing reputation, with the need to create flexible workplaces and balance benefits with bottom line. While tempting to view these challenges with concern over the bottom line, doing so sabotages gains possible when entrepreneurial spirit applied to innovation is ignited full throttle. Even conscious business leaders, who keep an eye on the horizon (longer term), getting work done and being attentive to workplace dynamics, are still susceptible to running around in circles.

In case the term ‘spirit’ is distracting, a definition is in order. Personal spirit refers to three measurable elements:

  1. initiative,
  2. sense of control, and
  3. outlook on life.

Entrepreneurial spirit combines personal spirit with a sense of adventure, willingness to experiment, an insatiable desire to learn and a capacity to bounce forward.

Without entrepreneurial spirit at play, companies plod through the motions, guided by habitual processes and routine. The company runs on auto-pilot so much so that either the purpose of the task is assumed, or the underlying agenda is to explicitly or implicitly control behavior. Either way, the company falls asleep at the wheel numbing leaders into the same repetitive albeit comfortable cycle. Running hard to wind up in the same place.

Context Drives Behaviour and Regulates Entrepreneurial Spirit

The term ‘conscious business leaders’ applies to a small group since

85% of leaders in the U.S. are operating at the survival level. [See Seizing the Executive Imperative To Expand Consciousness] One source of the hamster wheel is the existence of internal politics. Behind internal politics is the desire to protect personal reputation at the expense of achieving business goals. Aversion to risk, and therefore innovation, is inherent. Entrepreneurial spirit suffocates in working climates where trust is low and expression of diverse ideas is suppressed. In contrast, innovation requires creativity and a comfort with uncertainty.

The Impact of Systemic Barriers

Systemic beliefs add to the pressure of delivering on short-term goals blocking innovation and adaptability. Attracting and retaining talent, or mitigating risks to reputation are restricted to a narrow set of strategies arising from one or more of these three dangerous barriers:

custom_sign_with_traffic_cones_11627Focusing on Recurring and Constant Barriers

Characteristic of problem oriented, adrenaline charged companies is the persistent focus on solving problems. Problems love analytical thinking. Innovation on the other side requires exploratory thinking – the opposite of problem solving. Linear thinking doesn’t help because problem solving tends to assume that there is a singular root cause. In a complex system, multiple causes exist. Unless perception is expanded you will find yourself running in circles: busy but not productive.

Asking leaders to innovate and apply their entrepreneurial spirit while continuing to focus on barriers keeps everyone running in a loop.

Personal Impact:

Leaders find themselves chasing problems. Since what you focus on expands, problems also expand. Adrenaline is addictive as is the illusion of feeling in control. In workplaces designed to control behaviour, business leaders at every level will find themselves repeating the same patterns over and over again.

Awareness of what you are focusing on helps you develop flexibility in how you perceive (see) the situation. Increasing flexibility gives you more options, while letting go of the need to control everyone else. It is a start at least.

custom_sign_with_traffic_cones_11627-3Falling Unconsciously into Organizational Patterns and Behaviors

Beliefs keep decisions running in a rut and operate without being noticed until you systematically poke them to the surface. For example, walk into a company that believes it exists to purely make a profit and you will find behaviours shaped by those beliefs. Or if, for instance, the core belief is that employees must be told what to do, then selection of metrics and implementation of performance management strategies will reflect that belief. Beliefs drive decisions unless the company and business leaders have deliberately worked with values as a principle-based approach to decision making.

Where habitual patterns operate on unchecked auto-pilot, efforts to explore and experiment (the prerequisites for innovation / entrepreneurial spirit) run smack into complacent thinking. “Do something different, but don’t change anything.”

Organizational Impact:

Take a look at the metrics. Whenever a company focuses on quantitative measures and statistics alone, meaning is likely to be missing. Without meaning there is no inspiration and no fuel to fire up creativity, much needed for innovative responses to uncertainty.

Reflecting to observe patterns in recurring issues or undesirable results, strengthens ability to pivot.

custom_sign_with_traffic_cones_11627-2Losing Connection to What Matters Most to You

By far the biggest barrier is to sight of what matters most to you as a fully aware and caring human being with a desire to contribute your talent to something meaningful. Yes, food needs to be put on the table but the days of trading your soul for security are gone. Rather than being driven by the need for societal approval or by metrics that manipulate behavior reconnecting to your personal sense of purpose and of inspiration is the only door available going forward.

Personal reflection to identify what you rely on: social approval, meeting external expectations for instance, enables you to chart a course toward personal fulfillment.

What do you see as the barriers to stepping off the hamster wheel and do what you believe, deep down, you’re truly capable of?

About Dawna Jones:

Dawna Jones delivers customized workshops and insights raising leadership and decision making awareness of a wider spectrum of skills and intelligences. She provides dynamic oversight into organizational change initiatives by spotting the patterns, and openings for innovation and fresh approaches to working with complex adaptive systems. Contact Dawna through LinkedIn or directly at www.FromInsightToAction.com

Follow Great Work Cultures on Twitter: www.twitter.com/GWCLeadLink

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