The Ultimate Guide to Leading and Living with Purpose
"The journey matters as much as the destination."
Well-intentioned people like to remind those of us who are driven souls about this advice. But I never bought it. I'm a destination person by nature. In business, family life — you name it. I like to know where I'm going and how I'm going to getting there. The rest is just scenery, right?!
Sound familiar? Perhaps this is you – or someone you know.
I've reached a lot of destinations I've set my sights on. Probably the biggest one was building a company from scratch and selling it to a global organization. We reaped some great rewards from that, and I can gratefully say that entrepreneurship has been the ride of my life.
But chasing that big dream almost cost me far more.
I stopped sleeping
There was a time when all I thought about was winning at work… until an interesting thing happened a few years ago. As my business was growing rapidly and things were going really well … I stopped sleeping. No trouble going to sleep. But at 2:30 or 3 a.m., I was wide awake -- dealing with all my work concerns, sure. But I was also thinking about one question that was burning in the back of my brain and would never go away: "Is this all there is?"
That's a frightening thing to face if you're a destination person. I knew I had dreams and plenty of drive. But I had always defined myself by my achievements.
Here was my greatest fear: If the destination wasn't worth reaching, what was I striving for?
Missing the journey
I have found one answer that has helped turn me around. And it's this: It isn't that the destination is not worth pursuing. But in my pursuit of the destination, I had missed the journey.
Maybe if I could make the journey matter more, I could reclaim my life and find a deeper purpose in my work.
So how can you make the journey matter? There are many things you can do, including downloading this free leadership resource, The Journey Mindset Guide. But first let's take a closer look at two areas of your life – the BIG two: your work life, and your personal life. Then I'll share some tips that have worked for me.
Making the journey matter at work
I remember as a young professional I aspired to be a leader someday. But many of the well-known leaders in the business world demonstrated behaviors and attitudes that confused me. I thought in order to succeed I needed to:
- Act tough and not show emotion
- Be willing to step on others to climb the corporate ladder
- Know all the answers – or at least pretend like I did.
The problem was, I wasn't like this at all. So I wasn't sure I could be myself and still be a successful leader.
Have you felt this way before? That being you wasn't enough?
Too many times we try to be what others want us to be. But only when we are truly ourselves will we perform at our best. You can't expect to find and fulfill a purpose if you're not true to yourself.
Yes, you will grow and change a lot throughout your leadership journey, but you shouldn't fundamentally change who you are.
You are you. To attempt to be something drastically different keeps you from finding true joy in the journey. Embracing who you are as a leader makes the journey far more enjoyable.
I also believe that to be the most effective leader you can be, there must be something different about you. Why?
So many leaders look and feel the same. They have chosen to align their beliefs and behaviors with others or with their organizations so much so that they have lost virtually all their individuality. In this case, who wants to follow them?
There must be something compelling that makes people—whether its employers, clients, or significant others—pick you.
Being different is attractive and makes you stand out from the crowd.
The trick is: You must be you. If you try to be something you're not, people will recognize it pretty quickly. There is nothing less desirable than a fake.
Which begs the question: What makes you, you?
Answer: Know yourself. Dare to be yourself. And be sure others have a clear idea of who you are and what you stand for, too.
That starts by looking within. You need a good sense of four things:
- Your gifts
- Your talents
- Your values
- Your passions
Once you are clear about these things, you can more readily find your way to the "sweet spot" where all those things come together. That's the goal, right? Sort of. But it's not really just about being in a sweet spot. It's also about what you do with that opportunity once you're there.
And just to clarify: No matter where you are in your journey, you are a leader. Leadership is not defined by title, but by your character, actions and words and your influence over those around you.
It's a privilege to be a leader. You have the chance to impact those around you for good. What will you do with this opportunity?
I have a core belief: When you have the opportunity to do good for others, just do it.
This belief has served me well and helped me over time to focus less on my own interests and more on the interests of others. It has helped me understand the responsibilities that come with leadership to do whatever you can to lift up those around you. It has also helped me more fully grasp the timeless truth all leaders need to be reminded of: "It's not about you. It's about everyone else."
Here are a few practical lessons I have learned that might help you as you strive to become a "leader for good."
- Be a leader who releases — Leadership is far more meaningful when you know you are positively impacting those around you. This requires a shift where you no longer hold tightly those things you love. Instead, you become a leader who releases. That means you will empower, equip and enable others to succeed by sharing with them. You will share opportunity, information, authority, relationships, resources, recognition – anything that helps them soar in their careers. By releasing to others, you will make everyone around you better. This is one of the highest and most rewarding callings of leadership.
- Ignite others — Being a giver is a priceless experience that can dramatically shape how you lead. I started an annual day-of-giving program called "Ignite" at the company I founded years ago to encourage our team to think outside themselves. On this special day, we gave our employees time and money to do random acts of kindness in the community. It was a very moving experience for our team to spend the day helping others. Their stories of the people they met, how they helped them and the satisfaction they felt as a result of their giving inspired all of us to lead with others in mind every day of the year.
- Love the whole person — Too often we focus more on the results and the work, and not enough on the people. We think of the leader/follower relationship as a contract. While you should have expectations for others' performance, I want to encourage you not to treat people transactionally. Instead, love the whole person. And by that I mean — show genuine interest in others, remember their name, talk to them in the hallway, ask about their family. Care about them. Your kindness could be the one positive thing that happens to someone that day and could translate into abiding loyalty others will have to you.
Daring to be yourself, finding your sweet spot, and impacting others are a few of the ways we can make the journey matter at work. I certainly have tried to learn and apply these lessons over the years. But one of the most powerful lessons I ever learned as a leader was how to make the journey matter in my personal life. This is far easier to say and harder to do when you are a destination leader.
Making the journey matter in your personal life
We all know and studies tell us – we can't work all the time. We have to find the "off" switch and do something other than work. Keep ourselves grounded. Live a whole life.
If you'd asked me a few years ago what my hobbies were, I would have told you that I didn't have any because I didn't have any free time. In truth, I didn't make any time for them – I put as much of my time as possible toward building my company.
I knew that needed to change, if for no other reason than I wanted to be an attractive, engaging person for my husband. He didn't want to be married to someone who was defined only by her work. And I wanted my children to feel they had a fun and interesting mom who was passionate about life itself, and pursued her personal joys too.
So I invested in myself. I found hobbies – and believe it or not, many of them led me to develop more of a journey mindset.
- I learned to ride a motorcycle and began riding alongside my husband
- I took up running, one of the joys of my youth
- I returned to photography and spend as much time as possible capturing the things I see along the way
- I love to cook and entertain in our home
- I love to travel, and my husband and I travel together as often as possible.
Here are a few questions to ask yourself:
- What do you love – something that brings you pure joy just in the doing?
- What excuses have you been using to keep yourself from enjoying these things?
- What do you want to tell yourself so you will feel you have permission to re-engage with the things you love?
- When could you make the time to engage with one or more of these things?
You must invest in yourself, or you won't have anything left for anyone else. No one wants to be around someone who works all the time, or thinks about work all the time. You have to really SHOW UP.
You want the brownie point for coming to your daughter's dance recital or your son's Little League game, but if you're that parent behind the bleachers on your phone the whole time, you don't get the full point – maybe just a quarter of a point.
Wouldn't you rather be on the front row cheering them on where they can see your smiling face and hear your voice?! That's worth the full point! And they will remember.
People matter the most. Relationships are the greatest gift we have, and we have to invest in them.
I learned I had to make time for those I love – my husband, my kids, my closest circle of friends. They are the ones who have stayed with me through thick and thin. They are the ones who I will be by their side in the darkest and last moments of life. And I hope they will be there for me too.
But you must be intentional about keeping them as fellow journeyers. Here are a few ways you can show others they are important to you.
- Plan regular time together – Schedule one-on-one time with your significant others, including the young people in your life. Let them pick the place or activity. Be sure to tuck your phone away when you're with them – unless you are taking selfies!
- Show up – No one wants to be around someone who works all the time -- or thinks about work all the time. You have to really SHOW UP. Be present and focused on what is happening.
- Slow down – As a destination leader, you probably move at a rapid pace most of the time. You must make time to slow down and live life at others' pace every once in a while -- or find a happy medium you can all live with.
- Make sacrifices for others – Sometimes you scrap the map and go with a detour in life that is better for your family members than it is for you.
- Appreciate unexpected joys together – In motorcycling, you don't ride so quickly that you miss the scenery along the way. Pause to enjoy the little things.
Traveling the road of life is so much more enjoyable when you can do it with those you love. So be sure to find and keep fellow journeyers.
Becoming a destination leader with a journey mindset
As you can tell from this website and my book, I ride a motorcycle. Learning to ride came at a critical time – when I couldn't sleep. And it taught me many things:
- To find greater joy in the journey, for sure, but also…
- You need a clear destination and the drive to get there – but that's not enough. The journey matters.
I've learned to be a destination leader with a journey mindset. Someone who is still very focused on reaching her goals, but someone who now understands that the journey of life is meant to be savored and experienced.
Becoming a destination leader with a journey mindset has transformed my life. It has taken some time for me to change – and I must continue to work on these things every day – but overall I find I am less stressed, more focused and present, a better listener, more interested in helping others than driving my own agenda, and certainly more fulfilled. Plus, I sleep soundly nearly every night.
As a result, I am a much different leader, wife, mom and friend than I was a few years ago when I couldn't sleep.
Adopting a journey mindset was the key.
If you want to go deeper…
Figuring out the destination/journey challenge was such a game-changer for me that I decided to write a book about it. If you want to go deeper and learn dozens more leadership lessons, I invite you to check out my book: Leading Through the Turn (McGraw Hill 2017).
You can also download The Journey Mindset Guide, which offers more strategies and practical applications for becoming a journey-minded leader.
No matter what your goals and dreams, what destination you're striving for, remember: It's okay to have ambition, but that can't be all you're about. You have to live a full life. And when you do, you will have learned how to lead and live with purpose.
Enjoy the ride!