In the not-so-distant past, I got feedback that some people around me didn’t know what I stood for. Ouch. No one wants to get feedback like that, especially when you’re in a leadership role. It would have been so easy for me to get defensive and make it their problem. But I sat with the feedback for a while, and I realised that perhaps I’d lost touch with what I really stood for, and that was showing up in how I behaved.

If you were asked ‘what do you stand for?’ how fluently could you respond?

In my experience, this is a common challenge. Too many people in leadership roles don’t know what they stand for, or can’t articulate it. What we end up getting is people who can’t, or don’t, challenge the status quo, so don’t help us move towards a better future. Or, worse, they allow stuff to happen that shouldn’t happen. Case in point: here’s a story about how plane crashes happen when co-pilots don’t speak up *. Not good.

Part of the problem is cultural (i.e. it’s not safe to be yourself around here, you need to toe the party line) and part of this is individual (what is my voice?). If you want to change the culture, start with yourself.

Here’s a simple model that helps us make sense of the elements at play here. We need both to know our purpose, and have the strength or courage to speak it.

Voice on Purpose Model


If you’ve got a voice, but it doesn’t reflect what you really stand for, it’s kind of hollow. You often see these people who swing their weight around in meetings, but don’t really have much useful to say.

On the other hand, if you’ve got a sense of what you’re about, but don’t have the courage or conviction to put it out there, the world’s missing out. And you’re stunted. A friend of mine once remarked ‘it’s like you’re a racehorse running around in a paddock that’s too small for you’.

But when you have clarity of purpose, and a strong voice, you’re unstoppable. You’re authentic, and people want a piece of that. You stand by your convictions, and influence people with your message. And research by The Leadership Circle shows a strong correlation (.78) between authenticity and leadership effectiveness.

Cover bands don’t change the world**. The best songs are the originals. We love the musicians who sing from the heart, and whose music resonates with us. We need leaders who have something to heartfelt and authentic to say. They are the catalysts to help us change the world.

Where to start? With purpose.

How to connect with what you’re about:

  1. Review your life stories by completing the Story Mining activity.
  2. Seek feedback about you at your best by completing the Four Questions activity.
  3. Define your one word by completing the One Word activity.

This work isn’t easy. But it’s essential to do if you want to make a positive and lasting impact as a leader. Leader, find your voice.


* Thanks Alex Smith for the inspiration!

** And I’ve got to thank the crew at Accidental Creative for this great line.

*** Like this post? You’re only getting half the story. Sign up to my ‘Thinking From The Edge’ newsletter, delivered monthly to your inbox.


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