Lead on purpose

Leadership guru Simon Sinek’s work changed my life. His thinking about ‘why’ and ‘purpose’ have taught me the importance of leading from the place of my core purpose; a purpose I believe God has called me to. Being a leader and doing leadership in our current times is demanding.  Many are tired, and feel overwhelmed and uncertain in their practice. Imposter syndrome appears a common experience in mission and ministry leadership. Leaders are wrestling with many things in these challenging times. Leading from a place of fully understanding our purpose – and sticking to that purpose – enables us to counter-act these challenges by:

1. Keeping God’s call centre-stage

Day-to-day activities and how we do these rightly vary over time. They are shaped by our leadership context, local needs and opportunities available. However, our purpose and call from God is much more a long-term matter; being matured and sharpened, rather than oft reinvented. Something we journey with and cultivate, and something that travels with us, as we outwork that which God has wonderfully created within us.

Chair of the Yorkshire North and East District, Leslie Newton, states: '‘our why’ can be our tuning fork, our rallying cry, our clarion call to renewed prayer, expectant waiting on God and purposeful pursuit of mission and discipleship.' (Revive Us Again, 2023). It’s what anchors us and keeps us on track helping us be confidently obedient in serving those we lead. If you are not sure of your ‘why’ and purpose, why not spend some time with your coach, spiritual director, supervisor, and/or a close friend to discern and tease it out.

2. Improving motivation

It is said writer Mark Twain once declared: 'The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.' We could debate this, but I find it a helpful insight into the human condition. Working from a place of our purpose is a fundamental source of leadership energy and motivation. Knowing why we are, with God, motivates us, keeps us “running the race”, and anchors us by linking our prophetic leadership with God’s divine providence. It is, as Simon Sinek reminds, what gets us out of bed in the morning. Take a pause from reading this and ask yourself to state in just a few words, why you get out of bed in the morning. What do you notice as you do this?

In turn, outworking our purpose inspires and motivates others. People are inspired by people of passion and belief. We’re not trying to control people and get them to blindly commit to serving our purpose, but rather journey together as others also work out their purpose and why. I’m convinced people will commit to change more when they know ‘why’.

3. Protecting well-being

In an age when many leaders sadly burn out, knowing and keeping to our purpose helps maintain healthy boundaries regarding what we engage in and what we leave to others. Additionally, when our ‘why’ shapes our ‘what’ we get energized by that compared with when we end up doing tasks that drain us because they materialize out of purposes God has not called us to.

Pause for a moment and make a list of things you are doing that do not connect with your purpose. Of course, we all do things out of service and necessity, but look to discover the important visionary and missional things on your list that really should be left to others. Seek to delegate these as soon as possible.

4. Sharpening focus and discernment

Having clarity about our purpose helps leadership discernment. It enables us to better say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ with intention and confidence. Sometimes we can enthusiastically say ‘yes’ to something only to realise down the path that we shouldn’t have done so! Pause again and reflect on your mission and ministry. Consider the extent to which your purpose:

  • shapes your practice;
  • goes beyond Christian clichés;
  • builds better performance;
  • informs your activities and outputs;
  • precedes committing to programs; and
  • informs what you communicate and/or publish.

Do you need to act on any of your reflections to sharpen your focus?

5. Bringing more joyand fulfillment

There will be seasons when leadership is difficult. It’s important we find enjoyment and fun within the big scheme of things. Experience suggests those leaders who operate in ways closely aligned to their ‘why’ fuel their own fulfillment and support their own sustainability more compared to those who don’t. Oprah Winfrey comments that 'There is no greater gift you can give or receive than to honour your calling. It’s why you were born. And how you become most truly alive.' How can you ensure you are becoming the best version of yourself, having fun, being truly alive, living life, loving life and leading … on purpose?

Dr Nigel Pimlott, December 2023 

My personal 'why' statement: To help others thrive and flourish so that we all experience shalom