There was a time when the only companies with purpose were non-profit organizations. Employees and leaders in corporate cultures were used to long days filled with soul-crushing interactions, better known as office politics. Nobody asked questions like “what are the qualities of a good leader”, the role of the leader was to exist, and employees were to subsist. People in the workplace couldn’t wait to get home at the end of the day, only to start again the next morning.
Most of our predecessors in the corporate workforce thought personal freedom and happiness meant a dream of retirement!
But somewhere in the early 21st century, the paradigm shift began. New generations of Gen X and Millennials came into leadership positions in the workplace during this time period. We were not willing to settle for the kind of corporate lifestyle we had seen our parents go through.
Our work needed to be purpose-driven and make the world a better place. And this led to a move away from competition-conditioning toward profit-driven businesses that operated for a greater cause. As we stand today, the modern workforce needs to know what their company stands for, and how it improves their lives along with that of their fellow humans.
Before we move on, let’s look at what makes a good leader in terms of being purpose-driven. Simply put, a purpose-driven leader is one whose skill sets align with their passion and contribute to a better world. The new age of leaders and entrepreneurs is being called on to be clear about more than the bottom line of the company. Before making financial projections for their new business, a founder needs to clarify its purpose and business mission.
Characteristics of a leader
As an entrepreneur who has learned from the process of starting businesses driven by a purpose, my own experiences have taught me that today’s purpose-driven leader has to stand to different standards and factors of leadership in the following ways.
1. Personal Pain
Good business ideas and meaningful business missions come from personal pain, something that makes us, as founders, step out of our comfort zone, looking for a solution to that pain point. The resilience born out of this personal struggle is an important part of what makes a good leader, one who is motivated by a passion, whether as a small business owner or an employee in a leadership role. Purpose-driven leadership will generally start with a personal point of view on the challenge the leader is passionately trying to solve.
2. Self-Guided Awareness
When discussing what the qualities of a good leader are, purpose-driven leadership and self-awareness go hand in hand. Self-guided intrinsically motivated leaders are not easily swayed by every idea and opinion one comes across. The voice of our gut instinct is the strongest, one that guides the actions taken for the business and the team. There is a heavy price to pay for straying away from the purpose and original vision of the company.
I know this is an odd quality to mention when speaking about the characteristics of a leader. Traditionally, most effective leaders are known to be stubborn and aggressive, masculine qualities that have been thought to produce results in a company. The change to compassion in the workplace has been one of the slowest ones to be accepted. The reality is that all leaders and employees are just human beings with families and life challenges, fighting the same battles each day. There is a need for more kindness towards each other in every facet of life, including the place of work.
4. Thought Leadership
Building mastery and expertise in our field of work gives us the ability to create a vision and unravel the questions that surround our area of business. Being able to solve deeper problems from the root up is essential and comes with consistent learning and exposure to challenges. Most thought leaders are vision-led, knowing where our company is headed and using experience to figure out how to get there.
When a business starts out, in the early stages, your team can be made up of one or two people. But that doesn’t mean it has to be a lonely road, one that can lead to burnout faster, since humans naturally crave connection. Instead, your business can create meaningful partnerships with other ventures that are aligned with your business mission and purpose. Solopreneurs have an even greater need to create collaborations that offer external insights into the voice in our heads. Hence, instead of a competition-led mindset, early-stage businesses need to understand that collaboration with similar companies is a win-win factor for leadership.
6. Social Consciousness
There is a global awakening that can’t be ignored. With most of Maslow’s first two levels of human needs met, developed society is now building up toward the last three levels of making the world around us a better place. Gender, race, and other Diversity Equity and Inclusion (DE&I) issues have all simultaneously been brought to the forefront. This is one clear characteristic of a good leader, the fact that most of these DE&I challenges feed off each other, and have led to discrimination at various levels, should be undeniable to them. Businesses—big or small—have a responsibility to look at their brand messaging, products, and services from a socially-conscious lens.
7. Environmental Impact
The global impact of unsustainable practices and the issues of climate change point almost directly to businesses, whether it is the construction industry, food waste, manufacturing practices, or oil and gas, among others. While established large businesses need more time and considerable resources to make a change towards sustainable practices, new and smaller businesses have the opportunity to do things right, from the start. As purpose-driven leaders, each one of us knows our responsibility toward the planet and the greater good. And the modern customer is equally conscious of supporting sustainable brands, over the ones that don’t keep an eye on their environmental footprint.
Most of the qualities listed above form the basis of what makes a good leader. For the ones, like us, who know our place in the larger scheme of life, these are just common sense.