Building your Brand – Putting your Purpose to Work Building

Why is it so important to have a purpose driven statement that sits at the core of how you lead yourself?

One of the key features of a leader is the ability to portray confidence in the face of uncertainty. This need not be a false confidence, but rather the ability to tolerate the fact that there is a percentage chance that the decision you make at any one time may be wrong and may lead to failure. By telling yourself – and others – that yes, I/we can do this, you reduce the uncertainty because of the self-fulfilling prophecy properties of confidence. But decisions are energy-consuming and fatiguing and often anxiety-arousing when uncertainty levels are higher than normal. They can force us into ‘deliberation’ mode, where we don’t know what our next goal should be. And so, we oscillate between thinking about positives and negatives, widen our attention and hence open ourselves to more anxiety and hence more uncertainty and less confidence. Confidence helps take us into the leader’s ‘implementation’ mode, where we focus on a goal, narrow our attention and so think of upsides and positives and not downsides and threat. The critical impact of having a clear sense of ‘purpose’ is that: It helps us make decisions in the face of big uncertainty; helps us tolerate the anxiety about potential downsides and makes it easier to cope with – and hopefully learn from – failure.

Researchers at Cologne University sent 15 texts to 1200 people over three days, asking them whether they had just done, been the recipient of, learned about or witnessed an act that could be considered moral or immoral (2). These texts produced over 13,000 replies, of which nearly 30% could be said to be describing moral events. For example: I gave a homeless man an extra sandwich that I had bought; I reminded a waitress that I hadn’t paid my bill; I took someone else’s drink from the fridge at work; I arranged a date to cheat on my partner; or, I lied to my friend that I had done something I’d promised to do. The research showed that immediately after acting morally people judged themselves as happier and they also rated their momentary feeling of having a purpose in life as higher.

Immoral actions had the opposite effect – less happy and less sense of meaning.

A purpose statement will probably involve some sort of morals – and to the extent that it does, it will make people feel happier when they act on it. Happy leaders are good leaders.

What happens in the brain when you have a purpose behind your actions?

Having a purpose usually means being clear about your values: one person’s values may not be attractive to another. Ruthless dominance can be someone’s value, for example, but the problem with that sort of purpose is that it contains its own failure because no one can ruthlessly dominate in the world without eventually coming up against a more ruthless dominator. More common values are ones like professionalism, loyalty, integrity, reliability, compassion, perseverance…. Etc – which don’t contain their own failure because they are within your control and not subject to the vagaries of competition in the world. Affirming your values through a purpose statement is a very powerful way of anchoring your ego in something bigger than yourself, something that will survive your own retirement or death. Brain imaging studies show that affirming your values (writing down what you stand for, why you hold these values and what they mean to you) reduces amygdala emotional activity in the brain and increases self-reflection in the middle frontal lobes of the brain. Values make your ego less fragile because there is a built-in sort of immortality when your ego is grounded in values.

Professor Ian Robertson, Academic Partner at The Leadership High, Neuroscientist and Author of How Confidence Works

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