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3 Components of a Foundation of Purposeful Leadership

Originally published: 05.01.13 by Wade Mayfield


Many books, seminars, classes, and schools are solely devoted to leadership. Leadership is a tough subject to fully comprehend or distill into its most basic form. What I have found through reading leadership books and going to leadership seminars and classes is that many people, if not most, miss one of the most important elements of leadership. It’s what I call purposeful leadership. All too often we confuse planning, strategy, and initiatives for actual leadership. This is not leadership in its truest form. Leadership in its truest form is leading. It is being out in front; making decisions, coaching, teaching, doing something; or, better yet, being purposeful.

The plan, strategy, or initiatives don’t actually do anything. They are a compilation of ideas, a road map to what drives leadership, but they should never be confused for actual leadership. This would be like your favorite football team calling a play in the huddle and never snapping the ball. Unfortunately, this happens all the time in business.

Here are three key factors that will set the foundation for Purposeful Leadership.

1.  Risk 
There is no risk in creating a plan, strategy, or initiative. You can sit in

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the confines of a nice, secure environment and make theoretical decisions all day, every day. Don’t get me wrong, great leaders know the importance of a plan, but they don’t stop there. They know that nothing happens unless they assume the role of leader, and leaders assume risk. Risk, to a leader, is not scary. Risk, to a leader, is opportunity.

2.  Confrontation 
One of the main reasons a lot of great plans fall short or die a slow, painful death is the avoidance and dislike of confrontation. One of the main problems in business is that because it is often misused or done poorly, confrontation carries a negative connotation. But effective leaders understand that in order to lead, you have to confront the issues driving your company’s success. Let me clue you in on something — if you yell and scream at people rather than calmly having a discussion, you are not a purposeful leader. Purposeful leaders use every opportunity to coach, and the best way to coach is by mastering confrontation. Confrontation is a test of your problem-solving ability.

The first step in handling confrontation is candor, the act of being honest with people while leaving dignity in place. Confrontation takes on its negative connotation when we let the problem go on too long. When we don’t address something, we get more and more disappointed in the actions of someone who has no idea what it is they are doing wrong because we haven’t confronted the problem. We let the problem build and build until anger takes hold, and then it becomes a negative confrontation. And when that happens, we want to find someone, some person, to blame for the problem. What we should have been doing is using our problem-solving abilities to find out where in the process the problem occurred. Was it training, direction, instructions not well stated or understood, the process itself? When you use candor and confront problems proactively, you will focus on the process that created the problems, correct them with help from the people involved, and set new and clear expectations that can be followed up and measured.

3.  Coaching 
Leaders are born, not made. I can’t tell you how many times I have heard this get tossed around and debated. I’ve heard it so much that I actually started to hear myself use this in conversations, and found it to be a fruitless debate and discussion.

Here is the best answer I can give to this debate. If you ever watch basketball, you will appreciate this analogy. Some basketball players are born with a natural jump shot. Some basketball players are born with an average jump shot. Both players will have a better jump shot with coaching and practice. All too often, we expect people to just understand what it takes to be a good leader rather than helping and coaching both the natural and average leaders to be even better. The bottom line is, everyone improves when coached.  Harold S. Geneen said, “Leadership cannot really be taught.  It can only be learned.”  The purpose of coaching is to guide rather than to tell.

Now that we have looked at some common problems and misconceptions in regards to leadership, we can move onto the qualities purposeful leaders portray. In the next article, we will explore practical applications that will help you become a more purposeful leader.

Wade Mayfield is President of Thermal Services, Inc., Omaha, NE., an hvacr firm with over 100 employees serving the commercial and residential market. Wade is both a student and practitioner of the management skills necessary to sustain company growth, empower managers and employees and build a wealth of happy and satisfied customers.  This series shares some of the basic practices of Wade’s management philosophy.  Wade was also recently elected to the board of directors for the North American Technician’s Excellence  Association (NATE).


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