The Purposeful Leader: Harnessing Tales of Direction in Times of Change

For the past 15 years or so I have been involved in setting direction for organisations. You could say my direction in life has been direction! I would like to think over that time that I have learned a thing or two about how to ‘do direction’ properly.

Some have even called me an ‘expert’ of direction. Now expert is a word bandied around a lot these days and even with my numerous (good and bad) real world experiences of driving strategies and writing about them, the one thing I have learned is that I still know very little.

I like Nora Bateson’s definition of an expert- ‘A real expert knows that they are in the process of learning themselves…. They are fertilizer, tending to the soil”.

So, with my learning hat on, these are some (not all) of the principles that I have learned about purpose, strategy and direction that I hope you will find useful. I should point out at this stage that these principles can work at a personal, team and organisation level.

Purpose, Strategy and Direction Principles

1.Purpose is A Tale Direction

First and foremost, purpose is story. A lot of people write about the importance of stories, but few leaders really take the time to understand the principles of storytelling. While even fewer apply those principles to how they convey their organisations or team’s purpose to different audiences.

In a business context story is what I like to call ‘a tale of direction’. For me a meaningful definition of a purposeful leader is one who has a clear tale of direction that inspires, immerses and sustains themselves and their team in the good times and the bad.

There is a huge pool of knowledge to call upon when it comes to creating inspiring tales of direction- from scriptwriting to gaming. There is no excuse not to make your purpose and direction exciting!

A Purposeful leader is one who has a clear ‘tale of direction’ that inspires, immerses and sustains themselves and their team in the good times and the bad.

2. Themes Make Sense of Tales

I have found that themes are a powerful way to make a tale of direction real for people. Think about a theme park that has 3-4 defined ‘lands’ or ‘islands’ with their own distinct personality.

In a business context themes are 3-4 (no more) practical islands that connect the overall story of an organisation to focused activity. In Cpl our core themes are Client First’, ‘Total Solutions’ and ‘Future Ready‘.

Themes can also allow you to be flexible in the what and how of activities within the theme. In a world where agility seems to enable more and more a competitive advantage, themes enable creative solutions but within a defined ‘island’.

As opposed to KPI’s we can start thinking about ‘theme maturity’- how much have we filled our theme, matured it, or enabled it.

3. Resolution Makes It Real & Relevant

Given the current crisis that we are all living through it is very easy to question relevance and the role of purpose, strategy and direction.

Most of us are finding ourselves in some form of firefighting or maintain mode. This is where resolution comes in. Think about Google Earth, where at one level you can view the entire globe, and equally you can zoom right into a house or a town to get more granular (a higher level of resolution).

In a business context resolution means asking ourselves questions like ‘what does our theme of X mean now’- for example in my own organisations context, it means asking the question ‘what does ‘Client First’ mean today and next week given the challenges that we have now?’

‘What does it mean in how we work with our clients in this time of great change’. This is a simple way of maintaining our direction whilst getting to such a level of resolution that it aligns even the most tactical of actions.

4. Imagination in a Box

Curiosity, creativity and experimentation are all critical when it comes to making a purpose ‘breathe’ and meaningful. I really like to focus on creativity and experimentation driven by a theme (refer to point 2 above).

In this case thinking inside the box!! This enables a disciplined approach creativity and experimentation. For example, trialing a new way to engage our clients under the ‘Client First’ theme (as an example) could lead us to multiple new and exciting ways to this uniquely. Yet at the same time we are still delivering on the ‘Client First’ theme regardless of how we do it (or fail at it!)

Story, Theme, Resolution & Imagination. From what I have learned these are some of the key principles of a purposeful leader. Seemingly simple principles but ones that should serve any leader well.

Cpl’s Future of Work Institute invites you to join a complimentary Webinar Series “Leading Through Times of Change” which will focus on a number of key topics to support you as a senior leader in an organisation through times of change.

Click here to register for ‘The Purposeful Leader: Harnessing Tales of Direction in Times of Change’ facilitated by Barry Winkless, Cpl Strategy Director.