The heart of human excellence often begins to beat when you discover a pursuit that absorbs you, frees you, challenges you, or gives you a sense of meaning, joy, or passion.

Terry Orlick

“Where do you hope to be in five years?”

It’s a common question asked during interviews and goal setting conversations with employees.  “I hope to be in a leadership position,” or “I hope to be promoted to a Vice President role” are not uncommon answers.  When asked why they want to achieve that position, their usual answers include: “Because I want to be in charge,” “Because I want to be the boss,” “Because I will make more money,” or “Because I’ve been told that I am good at what I do and that is the next step for my career,” and the most common, “It is the obvious next steps for my career.”

Unfortunately, while all of these are most likely genuine answers, they’re not the right answers when it comes to pursuing what we term: Leadership ON PURPOSE.  “Because I want to be in charge” expresses a desire for control and oversight of others; “Because I want to be the boss” expresses a motivation to run the show; “Because I want more money” is a motivation for self-benefit; and , “Because I am told that I am good at what I do and that is the next step for my career” is a statement that serves one while appeasing others.  It seems the obvious next step in their career is more of an entitlement. Leaders need to want to be leaders for the “right” reasons.

Our belief is that to have what it takes to be a leader who others truly want to follow; one must have a leadership mindset that is purpose-based rather than results-based. Moreover, Leadership ON PURPOSE has two aims that must intertwine: one is pursuing a leadership role with intention; the other is ensuring that one’s vision, plans, actions, and behaviors align with the vision, values, and goals of the organization. Leaders aren’t simply born and developed; they have a mindset that believes their purpose is to impact others.

Greater Purpose vs. Personal Results

A perfect example of greater purpose versus personal results can often be found among highly skilled professionals like engineers. There are many energetic engineers, with aspirations to be the heads of their engineering departments, groups, or divisions. They feel a need to lead other engineers. They see it as their means to a greater title and a higher rate of pay, even though their real talent and satisfaction comes from designing new and innovative things. It’s what compelled them to become engineers in the first place.

The outcome is not surprising. Many extremely talented individuals aspire to leadership roles, only to find once they arrive that they are no longer able to concentrate on and do what they do best.  They realize, often too late, that the role of a leader is completely different from what they had expected, what motivates them and what they are skilled to do. We’ve experienced this outcome in every organization we’ve worked with. 

Let’s look at an example we have seen in many organizations and in many different roles (sales, operations, finance, product development, information technology, marketing and other).  This example is that of a high-performing engineer.  In this example, the chosen successor for a senior leadership role was identified in succession plans as one of the emerging leaders in the organization, a highly-skilled electronics engineer who had tremendous success with design innovation, margins, and market share. He seemed to be a great choice for leadership, yet this turned out to be a poor decision for both the organization and the chosen leader.  Although in a new position, he was still getting too deep into the design tactics.  He kept spending his time on technical matters and not leading and building his team. He couldn’t separate himself from his passion and talent as an engineer. This inhibited his ability to build the organization and lead the team.

This new role didn’t work out for the engineer and he was later exited from the organization.  A talented professional, identified as top talent, now out of the company.  It happens often because we tend to promote for technical capability, not leadership capacity.  Organizations also need to assess aspirations and desire to be in a leadership role for the “right” reasons.  In the example above a new leader was identified who did demonstrate the qualities and attributes of leadership. And although he wasn’t as technically skilled as the members of his team and was actually being paid less than most all of the engineers on the team, he was able to build a very strong, united, and focused group of skilled professionals. 


ON PURPOSE Leaders want to be in a leadership role for a reason. It is not about the title or attaining credit for being at the helm when the team’s engineering designs would lead to patents but helping the organization to excel in its capability and expertise.

John C. Maxwell notably said, “Leadership is not about titles, positions, or flowcharts. It is about one life influencing another.” This is what we mean when we talk about Leadership ON PURPOSE.  Agile leaders have the character traits, behaviors, and skills to be the leader of others.

It is our belief that Leadership ON PURPOSE serves the greater good of self, others, and the organization. A leader who establishes a vision and goals, develops new opportunities for the value and prosperity of others, and unites the organization in that quest is Leading ON PURPOSE.  It means that behind a vision there is purpose and the right mindset to create and pursue that vision in the first place.

In our book, “Leadership ON PURPOSE,” we provide rationale and a roadmap, tips and techniques for developing the six attributes of agile leaders that you and your leaders will need to attract, inspire and retain the best talent. Learn more here