Article: Do You Understand Leadership Purpose? Overcoming Misconceptions

Discover the chief misconceptions about leadership purpose and how to write a leadership purpose statement. 

What leadership purpose isn’t

By Chris Smith, Ph.D.


Leadership purpose has a problem. Many leaders don’t understand what it is.

For nearly three years, I’ve facilitated Mastering Leadership Dynamics, our five-day leadership development course for CEOs, executives and senior leaders. One constant? Most participants don’t possess a clear grasp of leadership purpose.

Commonly, I see that executives:

  • May think their leadership purpose should be the same as their company’s vision or mission statement. It shouldn’t.
  • Believe writing a leadership purpose statement is a one-time exercise. It isn’t.
  • Do not understand that leadership purpose is important. It is important and requires deep thought.

These misconceptions prevent executives from being the best leaders they can be and from attaining the results that they—and their organizations—want to achieve. 

What is leadership purpose?

Your leadership purpose is a statement about who you are as a person and how you bring those unique qualities into your leadership, so you can excel as a leader. First and foremost, leadership purpose is about your values and what in life is most important to you. It’s also considered your why statement—the cause, purpose or beliefs that motivate you in your work on a daily basis and about which you’re most passionate.

I discovered my leadership purpose when I started working at The Leadership Institute and took Mastering Leadership Dynamics as part of my interview process. The first three days of the program focus on helping participants better understand themselves and, particularly, how their beliefs drive their behaviors. After those initial days of introspection, group discussions and exercises, the participants write their own leadership purpose statements.

I realized during Mastering Leadership Dynamics that much of my career was driven by ambition. More than anything, I wanted to achieve professional success—a fancier job title, a larger salary, a corner office with a view. Ironically, when I attained those things I still wasn’t happy!

While taking Mastering Leadership Dynamics, however, I learned my real passion wasn’t getting these trappings of corporate success. Instead, I discovered what I was actually passionate about was helping other people achieve their purpose.

This realization led me to create the following leadership purpose statement:

“Help the people around me achieve success and happiness as they define it.”

This leadership purpose statement is my beacon. It’s enabled me to achieve a deeper connection to my work. It’s also helped me be fully satisfied with my job. And it’s inspired me to invest more time and effort at The Leadership Institute than I had at other organizations. As a result, I’ve been able to achieve greater results at The Leadership Institute because I’m driven by my true purpose.

My leadership purpose statement not only guides my behavior on a daily basis, but it keeps me engaged and on track when my work circumstances are challenging.

One of the things I discovered about myself during Mastering Leadership Dynamics is that I want to be the smartest person in the room. And when I find myself in a work situation where my ideas are challenged—such as suggesting in a meeting what I think is a particularly clever idea that the other meeting attendees swiftly reject—my leadership purpose helps me be objective and respond rationally as opposed to letting my emotions hijack my reaction.

Similarly, when I feel slighted or not listened to in a work situation, my leadership purpose keeps my emotions in check. I’m able to productively move forward. 

Examples of leadership purpose statements

One of the best ways to understand your leadership purpose is to write a leadership purpose statement. In the Mastering Leadership Dynamics program, we help participants first understand themselves fully, understand what leadership really entails, and then use that information to create their own leadership purpose statement. We encourage them to make it short (about 15 words), simple and memorable.

Here are three examples from Mastering Leadership Dynamics:

  • Make the world a better place by helping leaders help themselves and their organizations.
  • Advocate for growth, freedom and prosperity through hard work, risk-taking and connection.
  • Create an environment where everyone can reach their highest potential.

A leadership purpose statement is a living, breathing document. It will likely change as you change as a person or as your career progresses, so you should update it accordingly.

Remember: Your leadership purpose will not only keep you grounded and help you stay on your path, but it will enable you to be the leader you are meant to be. 

Take the next step

For more information about Mastering Leadership Dynamics, or other training programs, please call 336-665-3300 or email us at LeadershipInstitute@BBandT.com

Take the next step

Register for Mastering Leadership Dynamics

Author bio

Chris Smith, Ph.D., is a senior consultant and assistant vice president at The BB&T Leadership Institute where he oversees the Mastering Leadership Dynamics program. Smith has 25-plus years of experience in the business world, including employee development, recruiting, and career and executive coaching.  

His previous articles include “Make change management your competitive advantage.”

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