Think at London Business School: fresh ideas and opinions from LBS faculty and other experts direct to your inbox
In this post-Covid-19 era, strong, inspiring leadership is more vital than ever. But what does it mean to be an exceptional leader in the midst of overwhelming pressures on your personal and professional commitments? Life as we know it is paused or being reshaped in a way that we are still trying to grasp. What does personal and professional success look like against that backdrop – a world that no experts have experienced and for which there is no manual?
My late mother used to have a saying: “It’s not what happens in life that matters, but how you respond to it.” In other words, don’t waste this life. It’s a privilege. Whatever your talents and skills are – use them. They are gifts. So: maximise your full potential, embrace whatever life throws at you and use whatever you have to have a positive impact on yourself, your immediate connections, your family, your community and society in general. This philosophy has inspired me and my views on great leadership.
What we see exemplified as great leadership starts within, with a decision to engage fully and courageously with any situation that we are faced with. That is why I am passionate that leadership is not about external power. It’s about internal power. It’s about bringing consciousness into the creative process, so that you are not blowing in the wind, but intentional about your life. To be a good leader you need to live with purpose, conviction and direction.
Our attention is often outward, when it should be inward. You can’t truly influence others if you don’t believe in what you are trying to get them to do. You can’t lead others if you’re not leading yourself. Leading oneself – self-leadership – is understanding the truth about who you are and then using your strengths – and weaknesses – your motivations and desires to move in the direction of our vision. So, where do you start?
This summer I produced a YouTube series about how to ignite the leader in you. It was a personal project, and one that addressed an area that I feel really strongly about. In the films, I talk about the essential role of purpose, vision and entrepreneurial spirit in leadership.
Life is a constant process of change. Every new day, every challenge, brings new opportunities. These are opportunities against which to constantly consider and assess the direction we are going. So, that is why it is important that good leadership begins with clarity of purpose. That sets the tone and shapes the direction of our lives.
Purpose is what you are committed to creating in your life. It is like a homing device that allows you to be pointed towards your objective at all times. What kind of person are you? What future are you living into? What are the problems you are best placed to solve? These questions are at the core of our purpose.
There is a saying that if you don’t know where you are going, then it doesn’t matter what road you take. Some people get stuck because what they are directing their energy to is not aligned with what they are being called to do. So, how can you figure out what your purpose is? There are three questions I find effective to identify your purpose. These are:
Imagine a Venn diagram, where the answers to these questions are placed in the corresponding circles. The intersection of these three – the sweet spot on the Venn diagram – is your purpose.
Wherever you find compelling growth and a commitment to value creation, you will find a strong sense of purpose. Take Google for instance. In 1995, there were already a number of search engines, but two entrepreneurs with a passion for helping people find information on the internet felt that they could leverage their software and design skills to make searching for information on the internet easier for people. That’s how Google was born.
Once you have connected with your purpose you are well on your way to taking the right steps to emerge as a winner in any market and business environment. The next step in becoming an exceptional leader is having a vision. While purpose is what you are committed to achieving, a vision is the picture of the life you are creating. It reflects your deepest desires and cannot be based on societal expectations.
What kind of life do you want to create in your career, in your business and at home, with your family? Only when you visualise this and understand this and actually write it down so that you can refer to it on a daily basis, can you begin to make your vision a reality and have a hope of achieving exceptional leadership.
Whether in good times or bad, it’s much easier to make decisions based on short-term outcomes. Exceptional leadership is not short term focused. It addresses shortterm challenges head on, but optimises for the long term.
That is not to say this is an easy process. It isn’t. It will take a lot of courage and the requirement for brutal honesty and authenticity. It will almost definitely involve growth and self-development which can be uncomfortable and takes effort and a huge amount of diligence. These can be daunting. But you owe it to yourself and to those around you to be the exceptional leader you can be.