Why do you lead?
That might sound like a silly question. You lead because you were offered a promotion to a leadership role. You lead because it was the next obvious step up the ladder. You lead because you are ambitious.
One or all of those is probably part of the reason – and that’s fine. But if you have no deeper purpose behind your role, you’re unlikely to be a really exceptional leader or manager. And you’re likely to lose talented team members.
As I write this, we’re coming to the end of 2021. It’s been another difficult year. Unsurprisingly, the turbulence of these times has led a lot of people to make big changes in their lives – including what’s been called the ‘great resignation’.
As HBR notes, many of the people who’ve quit their jobs – who are mostly mid-career – “may have simply reached a breaking point after months and months of high workloads, hiring freezes, and other pressures, causing them to rethink their work and life goals.”
And that’s the key point here: work and life goals. More and more people, faced with global problems over which they have little control, want to at least feel like what they’re doing everyday means something. That doesn’t have to mean they’re saving the world, of course. Just that they’re doing work they’re good at, which they’re proud of, and which has effects they can actually see.
I’ve spoken before about the Japanese concept of ikigai, and it applies perfectly here. The idea is that, ideally, you should find work:
Which you love
Which the world needs
Which you’re good at
For which you can get paid
If you manage to find a path which ticks all those boxes, you’ve got the best starting conditions for a fulfilling, sustainable work life which is underpinned by a sense of real purpose.
The awareness of how important this is has only been growing. Deloitte is now 12 years into its Millennial and Generation Z surveys, and the results consistently show that this growing sector of the workforce is extremely concerned with ethics, sustainability and accountability. The 2021 survey found that these generations:
“Lean on their values when making career choices. Over the past two years, 44% of millennials and 49% of Gen Zs said they have made choices over the type of work they are prepared to do and the organizations for which they are willing to work based on their personal ethics. And about 15% of those surveyed this year said—after reflecting on the pandemic and their values and aspirations—that they either left their jobs or started new careers.”
So between the ‘great resignation’ of mid-career employees and Gen Z’s increasing focus on value-based career decisions, a very large chunk of the workforce seems to be concerned with finding purpose in their work.
This is why I say that the time is now for purpose-driven leadership. Finding purpose in your own work, and then enabling and encouraging your team to do the same, is the best way to attract and retain talent in today’s VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous) business environment. Not to mention the fact that these Millennials and Gen Zs are onto something – it just feels better to do work which matches your values!
Another part of what’s driving their focus on making a difference (and working with people who share that aim) is quite simple. They recognise that they need to make a difference in order to enjoy the fruits of their labour when they’re older. This isn’t only about the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s about social inequality and discrimination, mental health and happiness, and above all, the climate crisis.
So, I’ll ask again. Why do you lead? What are you hoping to do with your position? It’s worth putting in the time to really answer that question, and see how your answer affects your leadership style. As Deloitte concludes in the 2021 survey:
“Business leaders should actively help millennials and Gen Zs channel their determination and focus their efforts to create the future they seek—a future that’s more responsible regarding the planet, more empathetic toward populations around the world, and more supportive of equality. As such, focusing on creating a positive impact in society and giving employees ways to get involved and give back will likely help attract and retain talent. ”