Serve the Work

Sue Watson, Director, Leaderful

Good leadership and serving the wider purpose.

Take a moment to check in with yourself as a leader. Ask, am I focused on serving the work or am I focused on serving myself? 

A confronting question, but one worth asking to review your leadership practice. It’s easy to drift from your initial, clear motivation and start paying more attention to your own leadership profile and ambition.    

The Leaderful Movement is about increasing the number of women leaders, leading for a better Aotearoa. It’s about a new kind of leadership – one not based on gender. We believe that we need more women leading, and that social ideas around ‘good leadership’ need to change if we’re to truly have a positive impact on New Zealand.

We’ve been asking leading women to describe good leadership. An idea that’s emerged is that good leadership is about serving the work and the wider purpose of the work, rather than serving yourself. 

What does that mean? All around us we see leadership that’s about strength of personality and self-promotion. In this scenario, the leader often becomes more important than the purpose of their organisation. This takes a lot of energy to sustain and means that leaders must amplify themselves and appear larger than life.

Self-promotional leadership has casualties

People who are drawn to an organisation’s purpose can feel disillusioned if they discover a leader who puts power and personal advancement above all else. We can see this often at governance and senior leadership level. Senior leaders can let their personal ambitions override their commitment to the organisation’s purpose.

A highly individualised and competitive environment can grow. When that happens, talented people who don’t want leadership roles in this type of culture may leave. Self-perpetuation follows; those who make it to leadership adopt a similar style, or cope with the situation and keep their positions by not challenging the status quo.

Here are some important questions to ask yourself as a leader. You could also use these to lead a team conversation:

  1. What was the sense of purpose that motivated you to take up your leadership role?
  2. How has that changed over time?
  3. What do you serve with your leadership: yourself or the larger purpose? 
  4. If you have strayed from the purpose, what can you do to correct your course and strengthen your sense of purpose?
  5. What leaders do you know who focus on serving the work? What can you learn from them?

We need to ask ourselves the confronting questions; health check our leadership purpose, and ensure we’re working to advance our organisation and society. Are you serving the work?

Keen to get involved in The Leaderful Movement or get support for you or your organisation?

Let's start a conversation.

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