What is the purpose of leadership? Answer this key question

What is the purpose of leadership, a leader’s “reason for being” day in and day out?

Over the years I’ve engaged hundreds of leaders, thought leaders, and authors about answers to this question.

Some think that the purpose of leadership is to deliver results through others, while some believe the leader’s purpose as developing more leaders. Others see the leader’s primary responsibility is to make the vision come to fruition.

What is missing for me in most of these responses is the answer to this vital question: “To what end?” Who or what is changed when “leadership” happens? Who is being served when leadership efforts are applied?

In 27 years of consulting with and coaching leaders, I’ve never observed self-serving leaders positively affect my “big three” outcomes: employee engagement, customer service, and results and profits. Self-serving leaders might get short-term results but, over the long term, each of the big three are negatively affected by selfish leaders’ actions.

In my book "The Culture Engine," I pose three questions to help formalize a servant purpose. Those three questions, adapted to effective leadership, are:

  1. What do effective leaders do?
  2. Whom do effective leaders serve?
  3. To what end do effective leaders serve? How do they improve the quality of life of their key customers (team members)?

By combining my answers to these questions, here’s my best thinking on the purpose of leadership today:

“Effective leaders hold themselves and others accountable to high standards for results and values, validate efforts and contributions, and ensure cooperative interaction and performance in a trusting, respectful work environment.”

How would you answer those three questions?

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