Podcast: Leadership Amplitude Episode 9

Take a deep dive into leadership development and team optimization.

The Purpose of Leadership Purpose

Dr. Sally Woods with the BB&T Leadership Institute outlines a winning formula to help you reach your leadership potential. Discover how your leadership purpose impacts those around you and how to focus your vision for a better leadership approach. 


Anna Slaydon: Welcome to Leadership Amplitude. I'm your host, Anna Slaydon. Over the next four episodes, we'll be exploring the topic of leadership purpose with Dr. Sally Woods and Dr. Chris Smith from The BB&T Leadership Institute. Let's get started. Sally, why don't you tell us about what you do at The BB&T Leadership Institute?

Dr. Sally Woods: Thanks, Anna. I'm one of the senior consultants here at The BB&T Leadership Institute, and I've been here for almost 11 years now. It's been a wonderful experience, and I love the work that we do and how we can help leaders and organizations and teams grow and transform themselves. I've been a consultant previous to being here for almost 30 years, so now you know how old I am, and in the area of leadership and organization effectiveness; previously in Knoxville, Tennessee, before coming to North Carolina.

Anna Slaydon: Chris, tell us a little bit about yourself.

Dr. Chris Smith: I've been working in the area of career development and coaching for roughly 25 years. Started my career really doing a lot of recruiting work on the corporate side, and then quickly realized I wanted to focus more on working with individuals in professional development. So I went back to school, and ultimately got a doctoral degree in counseling, with a focus on career counseling and professional development. Since then, have worked in the areas of nonprofit management. I've worked in higher education, was Dean of Career Services at a law school for a number of years, have done employee development work.

But I've been at the Institute now for a little over a year, and my focus here is in program facilitation. I do a lot of work with our Mastering Leadership Dynamics program as well as executive coaching and team building work.

Anna Slaydon: So I've been seeing a lot of blogs, and I have heard some conversations about leadership purpose, but I've not really seen anything where they have talked about what is leadership purpose. And me, I'm thinking, "Okay, leadership purpose? They must just be talking about things like what is the bottom line, how do I advance in my career, all that stuff." Am I right about that? That that is what leadership purpose means?

Dr. Sally Woods: Actually, that's a great question, and it isn't, actually. It isn't about what my path is in my leadership. It's more aspirational in nature. Leadership purpose answers the question, what is it I'm all about as a leader? It indirectly answers the question, how do I want to impact those around me through my leadership?

Dr. Chris Smith: Leadership purpose is completely separate than a job description, really. It's hitting it at a different level. When I'm done with this leadership journey, how will people think of me? How will I be described as a leader? What will my impact be? How successful were the people around me? Those are the kind of things that I think drive me towards a leadership purpose, much more so than just a job description.

Anna Slaydon: Yeah. When do they get to call themselves a leader?

Dr. Sally Woods: Yeah, that's a good one, and from our point of view, being a leader is more about being influential, so one does not have to have a formal role as a manager to be a leader. Leaders can be obviously at all levels and having a leadership purpose is not necessarily about what I need to do to get from one level to the next level to the next level. What is my aspiration about how I lead and influence others?

Anna Slaydon: And how much would you recommend that people define this?

Dr. Chris Smith: Well, the model we use here in the program when we have the opportunity to work with people formally is that we actually go through a process of developing a fairly concise leadership purpose. We encourage people to keep it under 15 words, and that's a loose guideline, but the intention in my mind is keep it concise. If you don't do that, then we tend to write paragraphs and they tend to be things that are hard to remember.

Dr. Sally Woods: We thought what we would do would be to actually walk through this visualization with everyone, and then as you're listening you can pause the podcast to give yourself some time to bring up the images that we are asking you to reflect on and think about. Then press Play again, and we'll move on through to the next image, and in this way our podcast listeners can also participate in this guided imagery that kind of helps to prime their thinking about what it is they're all about as a leader.

Anna Slaydon: Now, in terms of as our listeners are preparing to do this visualization – of course, anybody driving, pull over. Don't do this while driving.

Dr. Sally Woods: Yes, you do not.

Anna Slaydon: Is there anything else that they can do like real quick in their environment to help prepare them? Maybe shut their office door – anything like that you would recommend?

Dr. Sally Woods: Yes. Definitely going to a quiet place where you can be alone and be private for several minutes. It's not a long visualization. Any other thoughts on that, Chris?

Dr. Chris Smith: Quiet spot is good. I would also encourage people to just get comfortable. So if you're sitting in an office chair, get your seat adjusted so you're comfortable. Turn the lights down a little bit, and then make sure that distractions are eliminated by like your phone. Turn the ringer off on your phone, put it on airplane mode, turn off your monitor – whatever you can do to just create a space where you're less likely to be distracted will help.

Anna Slaydon:    Let's go ahead and get started.

Dr. Sally Woods: Okay. First, I would like you to bring your focus to your breathing. Just allow your eyes to close and focus on the physical nature of breathing, just for a few moments. Allow your mind to clear. Get rid of all of those thoughts that are probably whipping through your head. Just focus on your breathing for a few seconds. Allow a picture to begin to form in your mind. Imagine that you are sitting on your front porch in your elder years, years and years from now. You're rocking in a chair on the porch, and you're looking out over the view; perhaps it's a beach, maybe the mountains, maybe it's your own yard.

As you sit there rocking, you begin to look back over your life; and as you do, a great sense of satisfaction spreads throughout your body. Allow yourself to feel that sense of satisfaction. On your lap is a photo of the things that you're most proud of, and as you open the book, the first photo is an image that best portrays the type of leader that you have been in your life. Just let that image become clear to you. Now turn the page to see an image that portrays a legacy that you've left your associates. What did they gain as a result of working with you? Let that image become vividly clear.

With a smile, you turn the page and see a photograph that best shows the legacy that you'll be leaving your family. What will they have gained from knowing you? Allow that picture to form. As you turn to the last page, you see an image of the thing that you're most proud of. Let that picture reveal itself to you. Now close the album and feel again that sense of pride and satisfaction in a life well lived, well used. Then bring your focus back to your breathing, and then back to being present in your space.

Because those images might be a little ephemeral – they might dissipate over time – we suggest that you take a moment and write down some of the things that you imagined. Let that coalesce into a brief statement about what you are all about in your leadership, and as Chris said, focusing on a short statement that you can remember; doesn't even have to be a complete sentence. Something that is motivating and guiding for you and your leadership.

Anna Slaydon: That was wonderful, Sally; thank you so much. I kinda just want to play that on repeat before I go to bed, and just kind of relax. It sounds like that's really helping us visualize the results of what we want it to be long-term, vs. trying to think of, "Okay, I'm goin to start with where I am right now and what I can accomplish." It's more about starting maybe at the end point, what you'd like to see at the end, and backing into it.

Dr. Sally Woods: Right.

Dr. Chris Smith: I think that backing into it is the important part for me, because if you don't back into what you're doing now, and if you aren't able to apply it, then it's a nice exercise for relaxing. But what we're really hoping people can do is develop these very usable leadership purposes. If I might use myself as an example, when I went through the program – the five-day program we have here where I develop my leadership purpose – one of the things we identify are those messages. We call them success scripts – but those messages that we have about ourselves, about how I'd have to be to be successful.

One of my success scripts, as we call them, is to be smart. So the value of a leadership purpose is that if I am constantly driven by the need to make sure that people know how smart I am, then I'm going to get off of purpose and I'm going to lead in a less effective way. But if I'm able to engage and focus on my leadership purpose, which for me is to help others achieve happiness and success as they define it – if I focus on that, then that takes me in a completely different direction than that focus on being smart and being seen as the smart guy in the room.

For me, that's how I make it usable. It is a way for me to redirect myself and focus less on my needs, and focus more on that purpose of mine, which is to help others achieve happiness and success as they define it. So maybe that's a good or helpful example; that's how I make it real. Start long-term, start about that legacy I want to leave, and then thing about, "How do I actually apply this in an everyday setting?" It can be as simple as I'm in a meeting. Somebody challenges my idea.

Instead of going off on the wrong track of trying to prove how smart I am and defend my idea, if I back up and recognize, "Okay, what's my purpose? My purpose is to help others achieve happiness and success. Okay, I'm going to respond in this situation in a very different way." To me, that's how leadership purpose becomes actionable and very real in the moment.

Dr. Sally Woods: The most meaningful leadership purposes are the ones that provide meaning. That really are about how you focus on others, and make the world, your portion of the world, a better place. It provides meaning, even through some of the drudgery that we all have to do as a part of our job. There's a story I read that I think is a great example of this, and it was about a guy who is on a construction team, and he's the guy that does the flag. You all probably passed a guy like this when there's construction on the road, and he's the guy that has the Stop and Slow sign.

And so all day long, he is turning that sign from Stop to Slow. Somebody asked him, "Isn't that just mind-numbing for you?" And he said, "No. My purpose is to help people be safe. That's what I'm here for. I'm helping my guys that are doing construction down the road. I'm helping them be safe. I'm helping you be safe, and the cars behind you. So that's what it's all about for me is safety." And as I read that story, I thought, "Wow, that is such a great example of how our purpose guides us in whatever circumstance that we are in."

Anna Slaydon: Hey there, podcast listeners – we would love to hear what you came up with for your leadership purpose. Connect with us on LinkedIn(opens in a new tab) and let us know, and tune into our next episode, where we'll be talking about how you can use your leadership purpose to lead yourself. For show notes or for additional information, find us at BBTLeadershipInstitute.com. Leadership Amplitude is a podcast production of The BB&T Leadership Institute. All rights are reserved.

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