Having Purpose: An Essential Leadership Skill

Having Purpose: An Essential Leadership Skill

By Dr. Pressley Rankin

One important aspect of leadership is vision. Vision requires the skills in planning, goal setting, leading through change, and having a purpose. It could be argued that it is the ‘purpose’ that guides all the other aspects of visioning. That is what I am examining in this blog post.

Seven Questions

In his article on purposeful leadership, HR consultant Clive Wilson (2017) proposes seven questions a leader should consider when trying to understand how to lead with purpose.

Those questions are:

  1. How do your feelings about the work you do and the world you serve impact your sense of purpose?
  2. How conscious are you of the wider context you operate in?
  3. Does your organization have a living purpose that is allowed to evolve?
  4. How well understood is your purpose amongst all employees and stakeholders?
  5. Is your leadership style most like “self-authoring” or “self-transforming”?
  6. How will you encourage leaders to be more collaborative?
  7. How can you engage stakeholders so that a sense of purpose can emerge?

Understanding the purpose of the organization helps the leader create a vision for the organization’s future and helps write the narrative that will explain that vision to employees and external stakeholders.


Organizational culture experts Schein and P. Schein (2016) link the idea of purpose to the development of an organization’s identity or brand. Surveying organizational literature, they found that:

Corporate survival depends very much on developing a “brand” that links the organization’s basic competencies with market needs and provides, at the same time, a sense of purpose and engagement to employees. Being “in” the organization then is not only an employment contract but some kind of commitment by the employee to further the organization’s sense of purpose. (Schein & Schein, 2016, p. 154)

For this commitment to happen, that sense of purpose must be clear to the leader so that they can make it clear to the organization. Without a clear purpose from the leader, the purpose of the organization is created from the learned organizational culture that has been around for years. Sometimes, that older culture-based purpose may not be what the organization needs to move it forward.

Clarifying Purpose

By clarifying what your purpose is as a leader in your organization, you can craft an organizational purpose that is synergistic with your own. Bringing into alignment personal and professional goals further enhances a leader’s connection to the organization. That sense of purpose will radiate out into the organization and can drive a closer connection among the employees and the stakeholders in the organization.


Dr. Pressley Rankin is an Associate Professor and Academic Program Director in the School of Applied Leadership at City University of Seattle.  He currently directs the Master’s in Adult Education and the Master’s in Management and Leadership.


Schein, E. H., & Schein, P. (2016). Organization culture and leadership. New York, NY: John Wiley & Sons.

Wilson, C. (2017). Purposeful leadership – evolving from “me” to “we” in pursuit of our most important “why”. Development and Learning in Organizations, 31(1), 1-4.


Published October 23, 2018



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