Many great leaders have spoken about the importance of starting with the end in mind.
Aristotle often referred to the Telos, which originates from the Greek word meaning purpose or end goal.
The Stoics talked of the Logos, which was the principle of active reason working.
Napoleon Hill, author of the best- selling self-help book Think and Grow Rich, called it the ‘chief aim’.
It’s been described in so many different ways – mission, vision, purpose, calling, master plan, divine design – but I like to use the term North Star.
North Star goals over short-term goals
The biggest mistake I see people make is not setting any goals, shortly followed by only setting short-term goals, such as yearly goals, and the worst thing that can happen is they achieve them. You might think this is odd – how can achieving goals be a bad thing?
If you achieve a goal every year, you can end up ricocheting like a pinball between one target and the next, setting new goals with no real sense of direction or purpose.
I call this the ‘When, then’ syndrome – when you achieve one goal, you immediately need another to latch on to. This is what leads to unfulfillment and frustration.
My advice? Have a mission that is the equivalent of emptying the sea with a spoon – your North Star.
This approach works incredibly well for leaders. They share a vision that enables others to enrol into and support.
If you achieve a goal every year, you can end up ricocheting like a pinball between one target and the next, setting new goals with no real sense of direction or purpose
Identify your North Star goals or values
There are a few ways to identify your North Star. One I like to use is asking the four questions that make up the Ikigai:
- What do you love? What do you love doing? Who do you love being? What do you love having?
- What are you good at? What are your strengths? Think about all key areas of life (family, health, finances, attitude, relationships, career/business, social life, personal development).
- What does the world need? What major problems do you see? Where do you see problems you can fix? What could be better or different?
- What could you be paid for? What service or product could you sell?
Play with those questions and answers. Bring them together and identify what the crossover is in the middle, thereby revealing your ikigai.
How do you work toward your North Star goal?
Reverse-engineer your North Star until you get to your first intelligent action. This will be a tiny step you can take towards the first goal of your North Star trajectory.
This means working backwards from the goal furthest away – your likely unattainable guiding light – all the way to the action that will set you on the right path.
Using your North Star as a guide, identify what progress looks like specifically in 10 years’ time.
Then using the answers for your 10-year goals as a template, identify what your five-year goals are.
Once that’s done, use your five-year goals to work out your three-year goals, and so on down the line.
Reverse-engineer your North Star until you get to your first intelligent action. This will be a tiny step you can take towards the first goal of your North Star trajectory
To handle pressures, aim to be driven by inspiration
We all have three drivers: pain, pleasure and inspiration.
Pain and pleasure are two forces fuelled by desperation. Most people live their life being driven by pain or pleasure, not realising that any time they think they’re feeling more of one than the other, it’s an illusion.
The third driver, inspiration, transcends the other two.
While desperation may spur you into action, it won’t guarantee you purposeful fulfilment, so when things get challenging, you’ll more than likely give up.
When you are driven by inspiration, you’ll be aware of the costs and challenges of something, as well as the rewards and benefits, and do it anyway.
When you’re inspired, you’ll embrace both pleasure and pain in the pursuit of your North Star.
Different values result from different drivers
A value is something that is a priority to you. As humans, we are driven by end-way values (pain), end-towards values (pleasure) and means values (inspiration).
When you’re inspired, you’ll embrace both pleasure and pain. Inspiration is a renewable energy source. When you tap into it, it provides energy in abundance.
By knowing your North Star and means values, you can consciously choose to live in a state of inspiration rather than requiring motivation. Inspiration comes from within; motivation comes externally.
The right values for inspiration
If you’re living to your highest means values, you will be most inspired. When you’re living in your highest means values, you’re in ‘in-spirit-ation’.
Your spirit can be regarded as your energy, so you are ‘in energy’. If you’re not living your values, you will be living somebody else’s values that have been projected onto you.
These values could come from co-workers, customers, managers or society in general. If you’re living to values that aren’t yours, you’ll lack inspiration. You’ll constantly require motivation.
When you are driven by inspiration, you’ll be aware of the costs and challenges of something, as well as the rewards and benefits, and do it anyway
A state of inspiration will help leaders deal with pressure
As a leader, you are undoubtedly familiar with the pressure and stress that can arise from various challenges and demands.
Interestingly, not all stress is negative. ‘Eustress’ refers to beneficial stress that can have psychological, physical, or biochemical advantages.
Coined by endocrinologist Hans Selye, it represents a positive response to stressors that can foster feelings of fulfilment. Similarly, the Yerkes-Dodson law, argues that a moderate amount of stress can enhance performance, a principle valuable for leadership.
Too little stress can result in boredom and low performance, a form of distress. Conversely, excessive stress leads to breakdowns. The optimal amount of stress, or eustress, can improve performance, and you get into eustress from operating from a place of inspiration, where embracing challenges becomes rewarding.
As a leader, recognising the fine balance between distress and eustress and operating from a place of inspiration can be key to optimal growth and effectiveness.
This complex understanding of stress management not only contributes to personal wellbeing but also enhances your ability to lead others, making it an essential component of effective leadership.
If you enjoyed this, read: How Bob Dylan can inspire a purpose-led work life