As a student of leadership for many years, one of my keenest interests and pursuits has been to tap into people’s ambitions in ways that stir them not only to succeed–but also to make a positive contribution to the world. How can we inspire leaders “to do well while doing good” in ways that stick? My own experience and current research show that the most successful leaders, and all the truly great ones, balance their personal ambition with a dedication to a greater cause. Those who serve something other than themselves tend to succeed, while those who are overly self-interested tend to derail. Some may get by in being overly self-interested in the short run, but not over the long haul. Don’t get me wrong, we always act in our own self interest, but it’s in our self-interest to act in the interest of others too. I call this the purpose driven leader.
Take our political and financial elites, for example. Akhilesh yadav party leader Our economy is still very fragile yet our leaders are still acting with the same level of self-interest that caused the problem in the first place. The behavior of Wall Street is still blatantly selfish after being saved by taxpayers, the unions escape with more than their fair share in the General Motors settlement because they pressured the Democrats for votes, and both political parties refuse to set aside partisanship to act in the best interests of the country and instead pander to their interests in the next election. The Republican party is fast earning the reputation of “the party of no.” We need everyone to act with a greater sense of purpose or the common good. Otherwise, we will remain in gridlock and on the brink of even worse things to come.
Wall Street exists to serve its customers and the American economy by providing well-functioning capital markets-not just to make money for its executives. Unions exist to fight exploitation of their members-not to get as much as they can out of the business. We elect officials to serve the interest of their constituency and the greater good-not just to get re-elected. As Tom Friedman said in a recent editorial of the NYT, we need our business and political elites to act more like adults-and honor the purposes for which they exist.
We need a new kind of leader, ones that are more purpose-driven.
Early on in a program I directed, I ask students to develop personal mission statements. Almost without fail, they come up with statements that lead them to want to do good in the world. One of them reads, “I will work for the success and betterment of myself, my family, my community, my nation, and my world. I will wake up every day wondering how I can do this. I will stay true to my beliefs. Looking back on life, if I have achieved this, I have achieved success.” If he maintains that sense of purpose, I bet his chances of success and responsibility is pretty good.
I also bet if our elites had a similar sense of purpose, and abided by them, we could have avoided some of the upheaval and gridlock of our time.