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April 2018


Leadership Purpose


What are the big take-aways?


My state’s Republican governor, Phil Scott, said in a recent statement he plans to sign the new gun laws that were just passed at the end of March by the Vermont legislature:


Vermont is currently one of the healthiest and safest states in America. However, as tragedies in Florida, Las Vegas, Newtown and elsewhere—as well as the averted plot to shoot up Fair Haven [Vermont] High School—have demonstrated, no state is immune to the risk of extreme violence.... As Governor, I have a moral and legal obligation and responsibility to provide for the safety of our citizens. If we are at a point when our kids are afraid to go to school and parents are afraid to put their kids on a bus, who are we?


Regardless of the substance of the laws (which impose restrictions that I happen to support), Phil Scott’s thoughtful, locally counter-cultural and nationally counter-partisan response to the February arrest of a would-be school shooter is perhaps exemplary of leadership purpose.  Deciding to sign this legislation must have been a difficult stance for the Governor to take, but he described himself as “jolted” by the Fair Haven plot and – following a period of deliberation and public discussion – he chose to act.


Why do I like it?


Governor’s Scott’s decision requires guts, and I admire his courage.  With a little over 620,000 people (and still just the one 802 area code), Vermont’s a Second Amendment-embracing state with a vibrant hunting tradition and a strong libertarian streak – all of which I respect – and it’s not surprising that the Vermont legislature’s debates on this issue have been so fraught they’ve made national news.  (Although, notably, not to the extent of the state’s debates over the civil unions law of 2000.)


I imagine there are massive pressures on every Republican leader in the current political climate to leave loose gun laws alone.  In the midst of these forces, muddied by the intense media cacophony, how does a leader listen to both head and heart in order to find his own way forward?  One way is to reconnect with and clarify his leadership purpose, especially in light of new information or a greater depth of understanding.  And how does one do that?  A leadership coach like me might ask: For the sake of what do you serve in your role?


It’s possible Phil Scott was answering a question like this within himself when he declared he would sign the gun reform law.  He said, “As Governor, I have a moral and legal obligation and responsibility to provide for the safety of our citizens.”  To me, that sounds like head and heart.


In what situations would this be useful?


Being able to connect with and clarify your leadership purpose will serve you well any time, particularly in moments of crisis, transformation or indecision.  Here are a few leadership coaching questions that might be useful in these kinds of situations:


  • What are your top three – or maybe five – core values?  How do you embody them in your leadership?
  • What is your leadership purpose?  For the sake of what do you do your job?  What brought you to this work in the first place?
  • How would you fill in these blanks: "I am committed to _________ for the sake of _________."
  • How does your head inform your heart?  How does your heart inform your head?
  • The future is calling you to do – what?


What other resources might “pair” well with it?


This is the list of books I recommend most frequently to emerging and veteran leaders who are exploring leadership purpose:


  • The Discover Your True North Fieldbook: A Personal Guide to Finding Your Authentic Leadership by Bill George, et al. (Jossey-Bass, 2015)
  • Leadership from the Inside Out: Becoming a Leader for Life by Kevin Cashman (Berrett-Koehler, 2008)
  • Appreciative Leadership by Diana Whitney, et al. (McGraw-Hill, 2010)
  • Seasons of Leadership: A Self-Coaching Guide by Susan M. Palmer (Red Barn Books, rev. 2015)
  • Finding Your Purpose by Barbara Braham (Axzo Press, 2003)


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