Podcast: Leadership Amplitude Episode 12

Take a deep dive into leadership development and team optimization.

Leadership Purpose for Organizational Success

Conflict and change are two of the greatest hurdles that most leaders face throughout their career. Your leadership purpose can help you stay focused during those uncertain times. Let Anna Slaydon and Dr. Sally Woods show you how.


Anna Slaydon: Conflict and change are two of the greatest hurdles that most leaders face throughout their career. Your leadership purpose can help you stay focused during those uncertain times. Let's find out how.

Dr. Sally Woods: We had been working with a couple of folks on the executive leadership team of this organization that we hoped would be a client. They were talking to us about their organization's issues, and we were discussing some things in our wheelhouse that might be good solutions for them. They liked what they heard. They said, "Come talk to our executive team," so we did, and I happened to be the one that went to do that discussion with them. The CEO, who we had not yet met, was a part of that session, of course.

So we were talking; we had an hour allotted for this conversation, and I was trying to make it conversational. Not just come in and say, "Hey, here's what we're going to do for you," but have a conversation. We were about ten minutes into the conversation, and the CEO had not said much. And about ten minutes into the conversation, he slams his hand down on the table and says, "This is a bunch of…"

Anna Slaydon: Oo – censored.

Dr. Sally Woods: Yes – although he did not censor. And he went on to talk about what a bunch of idiots we were, and there were F-bombs dropping right and left.

Anna Slaydon: Oh, my goodness.

Dr. Sally Woods: Yes; it was quite an experience. So I'm a little stressed at that moment, but I could not say, "Hey, let's take five. Let's gather our thoughts and come back." I had to be present; I had to stay present. I must say, cutting through all the swirling thoughts and emotions going through me was, "What is your purpose here?" And once I settled on that – and I'm talking about this all happened within a few seconds – and once I settled on what is my purpose, then I was able to get out the statement of, "You're obviously not happy with what you're hearing. Help me understand what you want."

That might not have been the most coherent thought at that moment, or the most coherent statement at that moment, but it was all I could get out and stay on purpose, knowing that while he talked, I was going to continue to listen. 'Cause I now had the mindset of being on purpose, and not being all frustrated and defensive, and so while he talked, I realized that he saw the problem much, much broader than the two folks on his team we'd been talking to. They saw it much more narrowly, and since all we had heard was the narrow scope, that's all we were addressing.

So he thought that we didn't get it, and when I realized that the real issue here was his leadership team was not aligned, it helped me really be able to help them dig into that and talk about that. I couldn't have done that in the moment with such a highly confrontational person if I had not had my leadership purpose and my purpose of being there as my fallback that helped me in an extremely stressful situation. I think that really demonstrated to me in the moment the power of leaning in and calling on leadership purpose when things are at their toughest with a client.

Because things aren't always rosy with our clients. If we can have our purpose in mind always, in those tough moments with clients it helps us listen. It helps us to be able to engage them in a problem-solving kind of conversation, and hopefully, come to some kind of resolution where all parties are getting their needs met, or can at least be heard.

Dr. Chris Smith: That actually makes a lot of sense to me, the way you told that story. I can see how we use that in our work here at the Institute as we work with clients; staying on purpose helps me be more effective with the clients we serve here at the Institute. But as you were talking, I was thinking it reminds me of experiences I had early, early in my career – and I'm talking about high school, working in fast food. At that point in my life, stress was a bus showing up in the parking lot and recognizing that we're about to have to feed 40 people all at once. And so my...

Anna Slaydon: Ten minutes till closing.

Dr. Chris Smith: Exactly – ten minutes till closing, and we've already broken down the milkshake machine. But recognizing then that if we're able to help our employees and ourselves stay on purpose in the moment regardless of the setting, regardless of if I think about my own experience – fast food, retail work I've done in the past, working in higher education, providing career services to college students. In all of those settings, when I was able to stay on purpose, I was able to provide a much higher-level client experience.

And ultimately, if I think back to the balcony model we discussed a little bit in the last podcast, I'm also able to more effectively meet the organization's goals as well. So I love that story. I think it does a good job of showing how leadership purpose can help us meet the needs of our clients regardless of the setting we're in.

Anna Slaydon: Even when they're really upset with us.

Dr. Chris Smith: Especially when they're really upset with us.

Anna Slaydon: Yeah, exactly.

Dr. Chris Smith: Because in my case, at least, when somebody's upset with me, again, conflict happens. If my emotional reaction – which oftentimes is what drives us in conflict situations – my emotional reaction might be to go on the defensive, it might be to withdraw. I could have a lot of reactions. But if I'm able to pull back and focus on my leadership purpose, then I'm able to have a more intentional customer service focused reaction, purpose driven reaction, that is going to meet everybody's needs more effectively, including my own.

Anna Slaydon: Tell me more about how leadership purpose can enhance your performance when you're in the C-suite.

Dr. Sally Woods: It might be one of the most important things that guides someone that's on the executive team, because in that role, there is so much stress, so many conflicting voices, that without a purpose to keep you focused and centered, it can be very difficult to bring a team or a group together when there are many disparate voices, many disparate and conflicting agendas. Having your purpose as a leader to lean on and guide you in those really difficult times is vital. Not to mention the fact that most all organizations are being buffeted by change every day.

The purpose as a leader can be a constant in those turbulent times, where your change feels like it just might be one more difficult thing to do, or ten more difficult things to do, and your plate runneth over. I think for a leader, having that purpose front and center is vital.

Anna Slaydon: So it sounds like it really helps energize you when you become fatigued by conflict, or by change, or by various other things.

Dr. Sally Woods: Yeah. And remember, it's what drives you. It's what your why is, so if your leadership purpose is your why, then it will sustain you in those difficult times.

Dr. Chris Smith: I think another reason that leadership purpose is so critical in the C-suite is that at that level – as we've all seen recently in the news media and on social media – you're on camera literally much of the time. So when you get off purpose, it can have incredibly negative consequences for not only your career, but also the organization's success. There are stories constantly in the press about a leader who gets off purpose and finds themselves 24 hours later unemployed or sends the organization into a tailspin.

So at a C-suite level, I think leadership purpose is even more important than at some other levels, because the consequences of getting off purpose can be massive. In terms of your own career but also the success of the organization.

Dr. Sally Woods: And that goes back to the whole Leadership Amplitude concept that Steve Swavely talked about in previous podcasts. When a leader does one thing, no matter how big or small that thing is, it just has a huge amplitude effect. So C-suite leaders, like you said, they are in the public eye; they're high-consequence, high-visibility, and staying on purpose with all the challenges that they are facing is essential.

Dr. Chris Smith: Essential. And I think on the positive side, based on that executive amplitude concept again that we referred to several times now, at the C-suite level, there is an amazing opportunity to model the kind of leadership attitude that an executive wants to spread through the organization. So if a leader, an executive, is very intentional about that leadership purpose development process, and then is able to lead and live and relate to the people around them in a way that's consistent with leadership purpose, they've really set the tone for the organization.

They've set the tone for success. They've modeled to other people at all levels of the organization the type of behavior that they expect, and it really helps to bring everybody into alignment and lead to organizational success.

Anna Slaydon: Sally and Chris, thank you so much for coming and talking to us about leadership purpose; what it is, how we can use it to lead ourselves, lead others, and then how we can use that to enhance our performance as well as our organizational success. I love how this fits really neatly into when we started, we had that first series with Dr. Steve Swavely where we talked a lot about engagement, and how that impacts the workplace, and what leaders can do. And we talked with Chuck Gaskin about owning your career, and what that looks like.

Now, continuing down that trend, we've talked about leadership purpose, which I think has a lot to do with engagement and how it impacts the organization. It has a lot to do with owning your career; it's really taking that career the next step. So again, thank you so much for coming and joining us to talk about that, and helping us move just a little step further down the path. Thanks for joining us for this last episode of our Leadership Purpose series. On our next episode we'll be starting a whole new series on Organizational Culture with Ramonda Kyser and special guest, Dr. Edwin Moreno.

Not done with the topic of leadership purpose? Our Mastering Leadership Dynamics program will take you even deeper into the areas of self-awareness and leadership purpose. For more information or for today's show notes, visit us on the web at BBTLeadershipInstitute.com. Leadership Amplitude is a podcast production of the BB&T Leadership Institute. All rights reserved.

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