In 1962 President Kennedy visited the NASA space center in Florida. He came across a janitor with a broom. As Kennedy asked the man about his job at NASA, he replied: “Mr. President, I am helping put a man on the moon!” Would you assume that this purpose-driven janitor did his job conscientiously?
Your personal purpose brings out the best in you. Working “on purpose” multiplies your energy and your effectiveness as a leader – and helps you grow your business faster and with less pain. However leaders who grow their business for the sake of growth are significantly less effective and often run out of energy after a few years. How can you develop and leverage your own personal purpose?
“Fewer than 20% of leaders have a strong sense of their own individual purpose,” according to this excellent HBR article. “Purpose is a key to exceptional performance,” and even has health benefits: “people with purpose in their lives are less prone to disease.” Your personal purpose serves as your North Star in making strategic decisions, and helps you avoid tempting opportunities that are actually distractions.
To become a more effective leader, help your team perform at their best, and grow your business faster and with less pain, you need to develop your personal purpose – and align your role to it as much as possible.
What is a personal purpose?
Personal purpose is about how you meaningfully impact the world. What is meaningful to you might not be meaningful to someone else though. Your personal purpose “should be specific and personal, resonating with you and you alone.”
Your personal purpose is your personal why. “Your purpose is what you’re driven to achieve, the magic that makes you tick —the passions you bring to the table no matter where you’re seated.”
What is wrong with not knowing your personal purpose?
“If you’re not guided by a clear sense of purpose, you’re likely to fritter away your time and energy on the most tangible, short-term achievement,” noted Harvard professor Christensen here.
Without a clear personal purpose, your behavior is often “problem-focused, driven by fear and ego,” notices Bill Anderson in Mastering Leadership. For example: “If I don’t grow 20% next year, I will lose the trust of my shareholders which will affect my sense of self-worth (and may cost me my job). How do I avoid this?”
In this mindset, you focus on “removing, fixing, or reducing problems and threats.” These problems/threats generate fear, and the actions you take are a reaction to this situation: you focus on getting rid of the problem.
“As the problem grows (e.g., sales slow down), so does fear and your tendency to react – which reduces the problem. Things are looking good, right? Well, not for long. You are winning at a play-not-to-lose game. As things improve (e.g., growth picks up thanks to your corrective actions), you feel better about yourself. You feel less fear and are more secure.
This sets up the next downturn in your results. As the problem is smaller, your level of fear is lower, and so is your reactive behavior – which triggers the next cycle: you reduce your reaction, the problem returns, and you start all over.”
This mindset is the leadership application of Newton’s law of action-reaction: for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. If the action (in this case, the problem) disappears, the reaction (your corrective actions to fix the problem) also disappears – and the problem comes back shortly after.
This endless cycle has a high energy cost for you and your team and limits your business growth. A high-powered executive friend of mine is a good illustration: he joins a company, gives it all for 5 to 7 years and improves the company’s course, but then runs out of energy and quits (or gets fired) – and his changes wither away. This is clearly not a productive way to have a long-term sustainable impact.
A purpose-driven life leads to stronger results
The alternative is focused on vision and purpose. In this mindset your behavior is driven by your aspirations for the future. It requires you to understand your personal purpose, know yourself profoundly, and identify the leadership traps that trigger your reactive behaviors.
While fear is running the show in the behavior described above, passion is the primary source of energy in purpose-driven behaviors.
Based on your personal purpose, passion grows, and so does “your tendency to take the action necessary to create your desired future.” This energy makes it easier to step outside of your comfort zone, take risks to confront your fears and self-limiting beliefs, and seek greatness – while fear-based energy keeps you in your comfort zone and seeks safety.
Because your passion for your personal purpose never goes away, your actions also don’t go away. This is not a cycle: your results are on a sustainable, exponential curve.
The co-founder of a high-quality food company wasn’t energized by her work – food is not her passion. We realized that her personal purpose is about “creating quality and happy moments that contribute to durable relationships.” We then redefined her role to align it with her core purpose, so she could be the best at what she does – and enjoy her job much more. The larger her company, the more she could live her purpose.
Three years later her business’ top line was multiplied by 25 (!) and the bottom line skyrocketed.
How do you develop your personal purpose?
Developing your personal purpose is so impactful on your achievements that Mark Twain famously said: “The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.”
- Develop self-awareness:
- For each 10-year period of your life so far, identify the moments/experiences when you felt most alive; the moments that lit you up. Why did these moments matter to you? Where gave you so much energy? Which common characteristics can you find among these moments?
- Reflect on these questions:
- What are you objectively good at?
- What do you love to do?
- What makes you happy on the job?
- Public speaker and author Mark Green shares this practical step-by-step guide in his book Activators.
- Apply this self-awareness to your job: Which small changes can you make to your work life to turn the job you have into the job you want, based on your personal purpose?
“The ongoing discovery of our sense of purpose is […] the starting place of great leadership, concludes Bob Anderson in Mastering Leadership. It makes you a more effective leader and gets you stronger, much more sustainable results.”
I work with growth-minded CEOs who are frustrated by the way their business is growing; often they spend their days fighting fires – typically a sign that their company has outgrown their management approach. Often they don’t know their core purpose and lack strategic focus. I know the feeling: I have been in their shoes when I was running a business that we turned around from sales decline to double-digit business growth.
As a business coach my passion is to help leadership teams define their actionable business growth strategy, create a culture of accountability and effective strategy execution, and become better leaders – so they can grow faster and with less pain. I work with clients in the US and in Europe (mostly in Belgium, The Netherlands, and France)
If you too want to grow faster and with less pain, contact me now: Xavier@AmbroseGrowth.com.
“My company has lots of potential, but I just feel my employees are not engaged. If I don’t push, nothing seems to happen. I’m working night and day and we’re still missing 40% of our targets. I once dreamed of being a firefighter, I guess that dream has come true. All I do is put out fires, I have no time to focus on my business.”
Sound familiar? CEOs and leadership teams can change this picture, it’s all about accountability. Creating a fierce culture of accountability starts with the CEO and leadership team.
Why is accountability important?
Accountability is about owning a problem. You want employees to behave as if they own the piece of business that they are running. When you are accountable for a specific result, you will do whatever it takes to achieve it – and you would like your team to perform this way as well.
Carlos Brito, the CEO of brewing company AB Inbev, summarizes his views on accountability in these words: “We always compare that to a rental car: you drive a rental car in a different way than your own car. With a rental car someone else will live with the consequences of your driving. With your car, you know that it will be yours the next days, months, and years, and you know that you will be living with the consequences of your driving. Employees who behave like owners are here for the long term, and they will live with the consequences of their decisions – good or bad – and that builds a great company.”
Why am I having accountability issues?
Accountability issues are very common among growing companies. When you founded your company, you were personally accountable for everything. As your company grew you started delegating the responsibilities for some results – e.g. production, customer service, or sales. However, you may not have created the communication channels required to hold your teams accountable. Why would you? You didn’t need any of this yourself, and yet you grew your business successfully. Why would these smart managers need anything different?
For one, your employees are not you. If they were, they would not be working for you: they would start their own business. Second, your company is now more complex than we you started: it has more people involved, and all these people now need to be on the same page. Third, when you started your company with a few employees, you could be on top of each of them and had short communication lines: you knew what everybody was doing, all the time. Now that your company has more employees it is impossible for you to manage them the same way: this would soak up all your time. This is exactly why you need to put a system in place that will achieve what you want (ie create accountability), without you spending all your time on it.
1. Lead by example
Like many aspects related to company culture, accountability starts with you and your leadership team. In order to create a culture of accountability you have to model the behaviors that you want to see in your organization. When it comes to accountability the rule is simple: when you make a commitment as a leader, you have to keep it. If you don’t, why should anyone else be interested in doing so? You can’t complain that employees miss their deadlines if you are occasionally late as well. As a CEO “all eyes and ears within your business are focused on you. What you say and what you do are invisibly and constantly observed, scrutinized and evaluated as your managers and employees are looking for clues as to how they should behave,” explains Mark Green.
Leading by example is not only about you sticking to your commitments, but also about your expectations from your team – and your behavior when your managers don’t meet your expectations. If your team members notice that there are no consequences for missing targets, why would they try their best? Similarly, if you tolerate one of your team members to produce poor results, why would other team members feel pressured to produce quality? When you hold your team to a higher standards, you are sending a strong signal across the organization.
2. Have the right people on the right seat
Without the right people on the right seat, nothing of what you can do will significantly increase accountability. The key question is: would you enthusiastically rehire everybody on your team? I advise my clients to assess employees on two dimensions; performance and adherence to company values. You will find more information on how to use this tool in this article.
Once you have the right people on your team you need to clarify their area of accountability. This is less obvious than it looks. The key question is: Who is accountable for each of the key functions in your company? As Mark Green explains “the exercise often reveals that there isn’t a single individual accountable for each function. When more than one person is “accountable”, nobody is accountable. It is easy to make assumptions that things will get done, but when there is not a designated person to account for a particular result, chances are, it is not going to happen. In this kind of environment, it is also easy to point fingers – Bob thought Mary would handle it, and vice versa. Other times, you’ll discover that a particular role hasn’t been filled by anyone at all; it is just implied that it will somehow be handled. Spoiler alert: it doesn’t!”
3. Clarify priorities
“The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing,” wrote best-selling author Stephen Covey. “Individuals or organizations with too many priorities have no priorities and risk spinning their wheels and accomplishing nothing of significance,” says Verne Harnish in his book “Scaling Up.” Focus on a small number of priorities that will have the biggest impact on your goals, make sure that everyone on your leadership team is aligned on them – and communicate them broadly.
When employees understand where your organization is going and which role they play in it, they work less selfishly and they tend to make better business decisions on behalf of the company – simply because they can see the impact of their decisions and how they impact overall results.
4. Define clear action plans and metrics
Once you have identified who on the leadership team is accountable for each function and what your top priorities are, the next step is for each of your leaders to answer Mark Green’s key question: “What are the 3 most important results the company expects you deliver in exchange for paying your salary – and how should these results be measured? This step determines the results and metrics for each of your leadership functions. As we all know, you can’t manage what you don’t measure. If you want to increase the speed and quality of a particular service you offer, you should establish specific metrics to gauge those factors and identify metrics and targets for them. You may determine if you reach or surpass a target for three months in a row, you have achieved that objective.” Pick specific metrics, make sure that your leadership team is on the same page and that everybody aims for the clearly defined results – so that the rest of your organization can follow your lead.
Similarly, once you have defined top quarterly priorities, the question becomes: what do you and your team need to do in each of the next 13 weeks in order to achieve priorities? There are only 13 weeks in a quarter – if you do NOT view your quarter as a 13-week race, you will lose weeks and time which you will NOT get back. A weekly plan clarifies what can be expected every week, in order to meet expectations at the end of the quarter. It also makes it much easier for your leadership team to hold people accountable to their own 13-week plan.
5. Establish a metronome-like meeting rhythm
Just as a metronome calls time and sets tempo in a musical performance, so do a small set of consistently executed meetings to hold you and your team accountable, and keep everyone on the same page. The essential regular meetings are:
- Daily huddles (no more than 10 to 15 minutes) to evaluate progress on the very short-term priorities and identify any blocking issues.
- Weekly huddles (no more than 90 minutes) to review the status of the 13-week plan and course-correct if needed.
- Monthly and quarterly meetings to review progress on the priorities, take corrective actions when needed, and identify new priorities for the upcoming quarter.
I often notice that the most impactful meetings to drive accountability are the daily and weekly huddles: they create peer pressure and hence take the heat off your shoulders as the leader. They also improve communication: You won’t need to have the same water-cooler conversation three of four times, as is the case when you rely on chance hallway meetings for communication. And finally they enable collective intelligence to solve problems.
In the end, how much difference do these tools make on accountability? Pretty big, as this example from another Gravitas Impact business coach, Glen Dall, demonstrates in Mark Green’s book “Creating a Culture of Accountability”: “I worked with the CEO of a multi-location dental practice. The CEO had started with one practice that they grew very successfully – and then began expanding. At one point employee turnover rates increased to 200%. The leadership team would plan and set goals, but frequently failed to achieve them. The growth rate was declining. The CEO felt over-extended, frustrated and stressed.”
With the leadership team Glen Dall leveraged these tools to have the right people on the right seat, set priorities and targets, as well as establish a proven system to follow up on them. The result? “After our first 6 months of working together, the CEO told me, “You should be proud of how far you’ve brought the team. I feel that we have accomplished more in the past 6 months than we were able in the last 7 years.” That is the power of accountability.”
As a business growth coach, I work with founders of mid-market companies who are frustrated because their business is not growing the way they want; my passion is to help them identify and remove the growth roadblocks they have been hitting so they can grow faster and with less pain. Often their roadblocks include a lack of accountability: they have no system in place to regularly follow up on their team’s many commitments, or their teams don’t have clear priorities and metrics. I would like to learn about your growth roadblocks; contact me to discuss at Xavier@AmbroseGrowth.com.
What about you? How accountable is your team? How has Covid impacted accountability? Over the past couple of years, how many quarters has your company reached and missed their targets? What were the consequences of hitting targets, and what were the consequences of missing them? Do you have clear metrics and regular meetings in place to follow up on each of your priorities?
Let me know your thoughts in the comments section.