Top 10 Posts on Purpose in Leadership

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Photo by Magda Ehlers on Pexels.com

I took a bit of time at the beginning of the year to check in on which posts have been the most interesting to readers of Purpose in Leadership the past five years (2014-2018). Two main observations stand out as I consider the Top 10 from this season.

First, the discussion I offer on what the differences are between groups and teams is by far the most viewed post.  This post was viewed well over 5 times more than any other post on the blog in this time period. Understanding the importance of groups and teams, and how they differ, is so important for organizational leaders. I’m glad others have found this helpful.

Second, there continues to be significant interest in the intersection between leadership and communication. Two of the top five posts focus on the types and levels of leadership communication. I often say to students, “Although you can be an effective communicator without being an effective leader, effective communication is foundational to effective leadership.” Others seem to get this as well—effective communication is essential to effective leadership practice.

So here are the Top 10 Posts on Purpose in Leadership. I hope some of these will be an encouragement to you as you reflect on your own leadership practice.

#1.    Groups vs. Teams: What’s the Difference?

#2.    5 Types of Leadership Communication

#3.    9 Effective Leadership Practices

#4.    Don’t Confuse Motion with Progress

#5.    7 Levels of Leadership Communication

#6.    Leading from the Front … Leading with Vision

#7.    Tolstoy on Leadership

#8.    Follower Motivation and Leader Humility

#9.    Let Your Life Speak — How to Understand Your Vocational Call

#10.  37 Barriers to Change

If you found one of these particularly helpful, please share your thoughts below.

Leadership Communication: Reflections on Dr. King’s Example

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Photo Credit: MLK Memorial, by Thad Zajdowicz, Flickr

Last week I noted how leadership communication has been a topic of significant interest among Purpose in Leadership readers. Leaders who care about their message must learn the art and practice of effective leadership communication.

While there are there many positive examples of leadership communicators in history, one of the most powerful visionary communicators of the twentieth century was the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

In an upcoming book that will be published this summer, I take some time to unpack leadership communication practices by looking at the example of Dr. King.

Dr. King was clear on his core message. He also was able to draw on this core message when needed, and speak about what mattered most to him in an extemporaneous manner. While he delivered as many as 450 speeches a year at some points, King was able to return to his core message in powerful ways.

Dr. King also knew how to blend both powerful logic and compelling passion that engaged hearts and minds alike. Using a rhetorical pattern of repetition in communication known as anaphora, King engaged his audiences in both memorable and moving ways. Though certainly not limited to Dr. King’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech, consider the use of anaphora in this speech: “One hundred years later,” “Now is the time,” “We can never be satisfied,” “With this faith,” “Let freedom ring,” and, of course, “I have a dream.” Such repetition helped to bring King’s compelling message to a place of memorability.

Dr. King also used visionary and imaginative language as a key communication tool. Consider such powerful language such as: “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice,” and “we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt.” Dr. King’s language awoke the imagination of his hearers to “see” through his visionary word pictures.

Also embedded in these and other speeches by King is the power of vision and word pictures. As King cast a vision for equality and justice to diverse audiences, he intentionally used language that was visual in nature. His language awoke the imagination to “see” this arc of the moral universe. His language awoke the imagination to “see” freedom ringing across the United States from the Northeast, to the West Coast, to the Deep South. His language awoke the imagination to “see” sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave-owners sitting down together at the table of brotherhood. His language awoke the imagination to “see” little black boys and black girls joining hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers

Here’s a glimpse of how we wrap up this section reflecting on Dr. King as an effective leadership communicator in our forthcoming book:

This is the power of leaders using visionary language. Through their language, leaders help people to see and envision what a preferred future can look like. King used visionary language and rhetorical devices—his language engaged the whole person. King used personal authenticity—people knew he was an owner rather than a renter of the vision he was casting. And King used a message that was clear and focused—people knew what King stood for and how they could join him in this vital work of moving toward equality and justice.

While such a powerful model of communication is not something many, or any, can fully replicate, King’s model of communicating with clarity should inspire current and aspiring leaders. Be clear on your message. Embody your message with personal authenticity. And learn tools of language and speech that can bring your message to life.

As you think about the intersection of leadership and communication, what observations and insights do you have? Take a moment to share your thoughts below.

People First Leadership: Remembering Herb Kelleher of Southwest Airlines

photography of airplane during sunrise

Photo by Anugrah Lohiya on Pexels.com

This past week, Southwest Airlines Founder and Chairman Emeritus Herbert D. Kelleher passed away today at the age of 87.

Kelleher left quite an impression on both the airline industry and on those who worked with him. One of Southwest Airline’s achievements has been 46 years of consecutive profitability due to its approach to steady and responsible growth on behalf of its employees and customers.

The drive for Kelleher and Southwest was not merely financial. It was about people. The airline is known for its commitment to affordable travel for its customers, friendly customer service, and employee-centered servant leadership practices.

Kelleher’s business vision for the company evidenced his deep commitment to caring for employees. When asked on one occasion what Kelleher’s vision was for the company over the next ten years, he replied, “My vision is to keep Southwest Airlines job-secure for our people.” Through the time of Kelleher’s passing, Southwest Airlines has never been in bankruptcy or had a layoff of employees—an amazing claim for the turbulent airline industry.

In a statement posted on Southwest’s website regarding Kelleher’s passing, current Chairman and CEO, Gary Kelly, noted the following about Kelleher’s people-first approach to life and business:

“He inspired people; he motivated people; he challenged people—and, he kept us laughing all the way. He was an exceptionally gifted man with an enormous heart and love for people—all people. We have been beyond blessed to have him as a part of our lives.”

Kelleher provided a model of servant leadership and valuing people. Mark Strauss and I included a bit about Kelleher’s leadership in our upcoming book. Here’s a look at some of this reflection:

“Although most business executives see the general value of their employees, not all executives prioritize people as individuals. Herb Kelleher sought to do to this at Southwest for people at every level of the organization—whether fellow executives or those in line jobs as baggage handlers and mechanics.

At one of the company’s famous spirit parties, surrounded by hundreds of people circling Herb for attention, [Colleen] Barrett tells the story of Herb intently talking with a Southwest mechanic in worker’s clothes for at least fifteen minutes—a long conversation by CEO standards. Barrett writes:

‘Herb never looked over the guy’s shoulder to see who else might be there, and never diverted his eyes from this man while they were talking. Herb was courteous to everyone who was trying to shove the guy out of his space so that they could fill it, but he gave this man his time. It was clear … that Herb had no hierarchical concerns—he was completely interested in what the Mechanic was trying to tell him.’”

As you think through your own leadership, what cues might you take from Herb Kelleher? Share your thoughts below.

#3 … Top 10 Posts from 2015 — Leading from the Front … Leading with Vision

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Leadership vs. Management, on Flickr

In a previous post I shared some observations on my top blogs posts from 2015. In the coming weeks I will be taking time both to share new content and to share some of the top viewed posts from the past year.

The #3 post from 2015 was …

Leading from the Front … Leading with Vision

Leading from the front requires leading with vision!

Engaging the question, “Why does vision matter?” Burt Nanus offers the following reflection:

Vision is the main tool leaders use to lead form the front. Effective leaders don’t push or production their followers. They don’t boss them around or manipulate them. They are out front showing the way. The vision allows leaders to inspire, attract, align, and energize their followers—to empower them by encouraging them to become part of a common enterprise dedicated to achieving the vision.

In this brief post I encourage you to consider whether you’re leading from the front or whether you’re leading from behind. Are you calling people to an inspiring vision of what can be, or are you pushing and prodding followers to do what they really are not committed to already?

Vision helps to motivate followers intrinsically rather than extrinsically. Vision helps to lead from the front!

Here’s the link to Purpose in Leadership’s #3 post from 2015

Leading from the Front … Leading with Vision

#10 … Top Posts from 2015 — Strategic Foresight

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Photo Credit: In the middle of nowhere, by Brian Koprowski, Flickr

In a previous post I shared some observations on my top blogs posts from 2015. In the coming weeks I will be taking time both to share new content and to share some of the top viewed posts from the past year.

The #10 post from 2015 was …

Strategic Foresight:
The Past, Present, and Future Focus of Leadership

This was one of two posts on strategy that made the top ten in 2015. In the article, I argue that in light of the volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous (VUCA) world we live in, it is a mandate for leaders to learn from the past and present and look to the future with strategic foresight.

Strategic Foresight

Clarity and foresight are essential leadership characteristics. Organizations and teams need leaders who can see clearly in the midst of confusing organizational and environmental realities.

THE VUCA WORLD

We are increasingly experiencing what some refer to as a “VUCA” world of Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, and Ambiguity. More than ever, we need leaders with vision, clarity, and foresight.

What do leaders need to do in light of such a world?

Read more about the need for leaders to engage with strategic foresight in Purpose in Leadership’s #10 post from 2015. Here’s the link to continue reading…

Strategic Foresight:
The Past, Present, and Future Focus of Leadership

The Power of Vision, Part 5

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Photo Credit: Visions of Color, by Joe Dyndale, Flickr

I’m in a mini-series focused on the power of vision. Here’s a snapshot of where we’ve been in the series:

  • In Part 1, I began by providing the following definition of vision: vision is a picture of a preferred future. Further, I described the major work of leaders as communicating this picture of a preferred future in a manner that is compelling and unifying.
  • In Part 2, I engaged the capacity of vision to provide passion, motivation, direction, and purpose for life and leadership.
  • In Part 3, I engaged how leaders can help to make vision stick by casting the vision well, celebrating the vision well, and living the vision well.
  • In Part 4, I engaged how leaders can identify their burning passion and compelling vision.

This week, I’d like to provide a final encouragement as you consider the vision you are meant to pursue in the year ahead.

Looking to Your Future

As I write this post, New Year’s Day is just around the corner. In many ways, the start of a new year provides an opportunity for us to do what we should be regularly doing throughout the year—looking to the future and planning in light of it.

As you look out the future, what is the picture of a preferred future both for you and your organization?

First, what does this preferred future look like both personally and professionally?

  • Personally: What is your personal vision … for you, your family, and your community in the days, weeks, months, and years ahead?
  • Professionally: What is your professional or organizational vision … for you and the community you serve in the days, weeks, months, and years ahead?

Second, what does this future look like at different points along the way on the journey toward your preferred future?

  • What does it look like weeks in the future?
  • What does it look like months in the future?
  • What does it look like years in the future?

Developing a Strategy for Visionary Planning

Weekly Carve out 15 minutes at the beginning of each week in order to prioritize your schedule and insure you are working toward your preferred future.
Monthly Carve out 2 hours to evaluate the previous month and then plan for the coming month in light of your visionary priorities.
Quarterly Carve out a day (workday length) in order to evaluate progress in light of your personal and professional vision. Use this evaluation to make adjustments for the coming 2-3 months.
Annually Carve out a 1-2 day retreat (getting away to a hotel, cabin, or retreat center) where you can have focused time not only evaluating the past year, but also reevaluating your overall visionary priorities. This is an annual time to insure that the direction of your life and leadership is moving toward a preferred future in light of the things that matter most in life.
Seasonally (each 5-7 years) Carve out a week or more every 5-7 years for a season of deep rest, refreshment, and renewal. This is not about simply taking a vacation—something that likely happens every year—but rather taking a genuine sabbatical from the normal routines of life. Some professions may allow for this seasonal time to be multiple months of rest, refreshment, and renewal. For other professions and work contexts, this seasonal time may be limited to a typical vacation week. In either case, find a path for intentional reflection on the trajectory of your life and leadership.

Have you seen tangible progress toward major visionary dreams you had 5 to 7 years earlier (degrees you wanted to complete, job changes you wanted to pursue, organizational goals you wanted to accomplish, etc.)?

As you look out into the next 5 to 7 years of your life and leadership, what are your major visionary priorities for the years ahead? What course corrections need to be made now to help navigate toward this preferred future? How can you adjust your schedule, budget, and general pace of life to make space for prioritizing movement toward this preferred future?

Engaging major life questions like this takes time and space for rest, renewal, and reflection. Take time not only for vacation and recreation, but also for sabbatical in order to tackle such visionary reflection and dreaming in your life.

 Vision: the Tool for Leading from the Front

Whether thinking of vision personally, professionally, or organizationally, vision is a powerful tool for your life and leadership.

Engaging the power of vision in leadership, Burt Nanus shares these thoughtful insights:

Vision is the main tool leaders use to lead from the front.
Effective leaders don’t push or production their followers. They don’t boss them around or manipulate them. They are out front showing the way. The vision allows leaders to inspire, attract, align, and energize their followers—to empower them by encouraging them to become part of a common enterprise dedicated to achieving the vision.

Rather than simply using push and production techniques, as leaders we need to learn to lead from the front. Vision provides the essential tool for moving from extrinsic motivation to intrinsic motivation. Vision provides the path for painting a picture of a hopeful future that motives us personally and others organizationally. As Nanus notes, “Vision is the main tool leaders use to lead from the front.”

Taking Your Next Visionary Steps

As you look to your future, the key is to pay attention and make changes based on this visionary reflection. In the week ahead, I encourage you to take some time to pay attention to your preferred future (your vision), and begin to take steps toward this preferred future in practical, tangible, and meaningful ways.

God’s best to each of you as you make strides toward the things that matter most in your life.


Here are all of the post links for this series:

The Power of Vision, Part 4

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Photo Credit: Colorful Vision, by Lu Lacerda, Flickr

I’m in a mini-series focused on the power of vision.

In Part 1 I began by providing the following definition of vision: vision is a picture of a preferred future. Further, I described the major work of leaders as communicating this picture of a preferred future in a manner that is compelling and unifying.

In Part 2, I engaged the capacity of vision to provide passion, motivation, direction, and purpose for life and leadership.

In Part 3, I engaged how leaders can help to make vision stick by casting the vision well, celebrating the vision well, and living the vision well.

This week, I’d like to take on how leaders can identifying their burning vision.

“What Precedes Vision?”

In a 2005 talk at the Global Leadership Summit, bill Hybels provided his reflections on “The Leader’s State of Mind.” The focus of Hybels’ speech was engaging the following important questions:

  • What precedes vision?”
  • What gives birth to vision?”

Most leaders understand the importance of casting a vision for their people. Just yesterday I heard about a family company that spent a part of their day focusing on vision casting. As I sat in the stands at my girls’ high school basketball game this friend shared with me that the president of the family-owned company he works for spent a couple hours with employees sharing and talking about the implications of their company vision.

This work of vision casting is vital. When leaders have a vision, the advice shared last week is critical—cast the vision, celebrate the vision, live the vision.

But … how do leaders arrive at a vision for their team, division, or organization? Or, in the words of Hybels, “what gives birth to vision?”

Finding Your Burning Vision

What an important question to engage.

As Hybels discussed this he shared the example from the cartoon Popeye the Sailor man. When Olive was threatened, Popeye would get to a breaking point where he would say:

That’s all I can stand, and I canst stands no more.”

In many ways, this line captures the heart of what passionate leadership is about. Rather than simply having a functional and lackluster vision, visions that change businesses, organizations, and societies arise from “Popeye-like” passion that sees something and says, “That’s all I can stand, and I canst stands no more.”

“I Canst Stands No More”

So what in your life raises that type of passion? In Hybels’ words, “What can’t you stand?

This is the seed from which passionate vision often arises. When you consider your life, your leadership, your team, your organization, your work, your context for life, what in your life raises the response, “That’s all I can stand, and I canst stands no more?”

  • Is it the need to see students effectively engaging in learning in the K-12 environment?
  • Is it companies providing real value through effective research and product development?
  • Is it about your industry operating ethical standards?
  • Is it about working toward justice in some tangible way due to the needs of the oppressed or marginalized?
  • Is it about creating health rather than dysfunction in organizations?
  • Is it…?

Of course the list could go on to many other areas.

The key is to think through your life, your leadership, your context.

  • What bothers you?
  • What do you see that needs to be fixed?
  • What problems can you not stop thinking about and want to contribute toward a solution?

Living into Your Passion

Identifying your passion is the first step to identifying your burning vision. If this is not immediately clear to you, take some time in the week ahead to consider what it is that you “canst stands no more,” and then find a tangible way to live into this passion in your life. What first step can you take to consider a visionary response to this area of helpful discontentment?

The reality is, you will likely have multiple passions based on the multiple spheres of your life. Consider:

  • What is your burning vision for your team, business, or organization
  • What is your burning vision for your family?
  • What is your burning vision for your personal and professional life?

Although Popeye may not be the first “sage” we think of in identifying our passion and burning vision, it is a great metaphor to spur us on as we consider our burning vision and work to live into this vision with passion.

Next week we’ll take up some final vision reflections as we think through the visions we are meant to pursue in the year ahead.

As always, I love to hear your thoughts. Please share your reflections below.


Here are all of the post links for this series: