The Purpose Of Leadership (McKinsey)

I’m a huge fan of the work that McKinsey & Company does – but I think I’ve never been more impressed than when I read this definition of leadership from the McKinsey Quarterly article, “Revealing your moment of truth” by Stan Slap:

The purpose of leadership isn’t to increase shareholder value or the productivity of work teams, though effective leadership does these things. Rather, the purpose of leadership is to change the world around you in the name of your values, so you can live those values more fully and use them to make life better for others.

The rest of the article also gave me some great insights (and reminders) on leadership:

People will always act based on their values

People – for better or worse; whether they admit it or not – act based on their values, which are informed by their beliefs. So it is unavoidable that leaders will always act based on their values. Thus, the people who follow them and the teams or organisations they lead will inexplicably be an extension of their values in action.

So, as the article states, “the process of leadership is to turn the leader’s values into a compelling cause for others.”

Leaders cannot lead if they have no followers who are willing to follow

A leader cannot achieve things without the support of their people. However, people will only follow leaders whose values resonate with their own.

Do your people know your values?

The article highlights several two great checkpoints as to whether you have successfully translated your values into action or not:

  1. Can your people, without hesitation, pick your values from a long list?
  2. Could they describe the benefits of supporting those values?

As the article reminds: If the answer to either question is no—and for most senior managers it is—then you haven’t begun to see the performance your people are capable of.

For values to permeate, leaders must be vulnerable

I find this to be so true – many of the leaders I’ve had the privilege of following are those I’ve actually heard “true stories” from – of who they were, what they went through and how they came to believe what they believe. The article calls them “moments of truth” – the stories of how you know your values are real to you, where they came from and how you learned them, and the intimate and profound personal experiences—glorious or traumatic—that shaped your self-awareness.

If a leader is to lead from their values, they will have to step out from behind whatever protection their job title affords and make themselves willingly vulnerable. In doing so, they will are saying: “From my experiences, this is what is most important about living.” By disclosing how their unshakable view of life priorities were formed, they are offering proof of their commitment to these values.

The rest of the article is a powerful, compelling story of one woman executive’s “moment of truth”. I highly recommend reading the entire article as well as the story here.

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One thought on “The Purpose Of Leadership (McKinsey)

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