For decades scholars have noted a difference between a management mentality and a leadership mentality. Many executives call themselves leaders, but they are not. To become a leader, one must learn to transcend ego, to move from an “I perspective” to a “We perspective.” Some researchers argue that the shift begins with a life crisis, a disruption that forces a person to reflect on issues of identity and destiny. Consider an illustration.
Making the Shift
Luis is a senior executive at a Fortune 500. As a first-generation immigrant, he grew up in poverty. This led him to focus his life on making money. He got very good at it. He says, “Money was my only purpose and the more I made the more I wanted.”
His pattern of success turned, paradoxically into a crisis. Luis started losing energy. He said, “I began to feel increasingly empty. I stopped wanting to go to work. I began to hate even talking about work.”
It was with this sense of disorientation that Luis happened to attend one of my classes. In the class Luis learned about moving from extrinsic to intrinsic motivation, from living a reactive life to a proactive life. To have a higher purpose is to begin to structure one’s life to contribution goals rather than ego goals. It is a shift from an ego-driven, “I perspective,” to a more generative “we perspective.”
In the class, Luis was exposed to many scientific findings, showing that people of higher purpose thrive physically, socially, as well as financially. He examined cases of people discovering, articulating, and living from a higher purpose. He said, “It was as if someone was speaking to my deepest hunger.”
Luis immediately began to embrace the notion. He was so excited he did not wait to figure out his own purpose, he decided to start by adopting my purpose; “To inspire positive change.” He said, “I began to anchor in that purpose, and it had immediate impacts.”
On that weekend, Luis decided to a call a meeting of his people for Monday. He spent the time organizing slides and selecting exercises from the course. He reports, “Literally, in one day, the team began to change, and our culture started to evolve. We began to focus on collective purpose, unified vision, mutual accountability, and on caring and doing for others. Soon, everyone began to blossom.”
A change occurred in Luis. He was finding joy in his work. He reflected on his best mentors and decided he wanted to be like them. Soon he came up with his own purpose statement. “I engineer lucky breaks for others.”
Luis says he loves his purpose. “I love trying to help everyone get better. In every conversation I try to figure out how to elevate the other person.”
Luis shares his purpose. He tells the others to hold him accountable. If he is not engineering lucky breaks for them, he is a failure. He wants to hear about it so he can change.
Luis reports, “I am hungry to learn. It used to be that I had no time to read, now if there is a five-minute window, I open and read one or two pages. That is all I need. It renews me. I also focus on learning from moments of genius. When there is any small incident of excellence, I latch on to it and I analyze the pattern. I pay attention, I am learning from excellence, and I want the whole group to learn from excellence. I even use this pattern in my family, we call out each other’s moments of genius.”
Luis works incessantly to spread his perspective. “I introduced the whole team to the notion of purpose. I invited them to post their purposes on our system. At first, 65 people from inside my team, willingly participated. Some began to attach stories, passionate accounts of key life moments. What they wrote was surprising and moving. People from adjoining teams then began participating. Soon many more external participants joined the exercise and several organizations began adopting the practice. This led to other leaders reaching out to Luis for mentorship and team building advice.
One of the most interesting aspects of the account is that Luis operates in an organization where the notion of purpose and these “touchy-feely” exercises, as he notes they are often referred to by others, are completely foreign to the organization and a departure from what drove its success over the past 40 years. This is important because people regularly tell us that they cannot embrace purpose driven leadership because they operate within a culture or organization that does not.
Luis reports, “At first, many people did not understand what I was doing, it was foreign to them. Yet now, many leaders including my boss, love what I am doing. Three days ago, I was promoted. I now have 190 people selling, 30 managers, and a handful of VPs. My boss told them, ‘Make sure you listen to Luis and trust his process, it’s different, but it works.’ His boss may or may not adopt the practices himself, but he loves the outcomes.
- Luis says, “We began to focus on collective purpose, unified vision, mutual accountability, on caring and doing for others. Soon, everyone began to blossom.” What does it mean to blossom at work? Are you blossoming? Are your people blossoming?
- Why did both internal and external people begin to join in?
- Luis claims that building a purpose driven unit with a positive culture was completely foreign to his company. How was it possible to do what he did?
- How could we use this passage to create a more positive organization?
- the organization and a departure from what drove its success over the past 40 years