Having experienced life as a start-up founder myself for over a decade, in my role as a leadership coach today, I love working with founders and helping them ride the roller coaster that is start-up life.
Whenever I first meet with a founder, it doesn’t take me long to determine whether they are ‘living on the precipice’ meaning they have a cash runway of only a few months before the whole thing could implode, whether they are scaling well, or whether they have reached a point along their journey where unless they pivot, nothing will change, and they should prepare for a ‘soft landing’.
In the last 15 years, I’ve met some extremely smart founders, many of whom I’ve looked up to, but some of whom I’ve been completely intimidated by. Last week I was fortunate enough to meet Jordan who definitely falls into the first category. Switched on, humble, polished, with an awesome business and I could immediately appreciate how and why investors had recently thrown some serious money behind him.
“So, what specifically can I help you with today?”, I asked Jordan (as I do with all my coaching candidates). “What’s on your agenda? Remember, you’re in the driver’s seat”.
“I’ve certainly never been someone who says, ‘let’s just go on a journey and see where we end up’”, he said. “I’ve always had my North Star, my vision, and a clear picture of the strategic end state”, he continued. “But to be completely honest, the reason I wanted to meet with you, is because deep down I’m just not quite sure I believe in my purpose as much as I used to, and as much as I know I need to if I’m going to take this business any further”.
I deliberately stayed silent, as I didn’t want to break his stream of consciousness.
“Up until this recent real round of funding, I’ve always cared enough about my purpose to look stupid, and even to fail”, Jordan said. “But now with these investors technically running the show, I’m now afraid to make sacrifices or take risks and I’m constantly worried that I will look stupid or lose my status in their eyes … and that’s just not who I am”.
This was precisely where I’d needed him to take the conversation.
A leader’s fierce commitment to their purpose is evident through their passion, resilience, and a combination of qualities that inspire them in their pursuit of a meaningful mission.
This was precisely what Jordan unfortunately felt he was now lacking. But after I had let the silence sit for a while longer, I did point out that he certainly wasn’t the first founder to have these feelings. In fact, there was a time after relentlessly pursuing the purpose and vision for my own business for nearly 10 years, when I felt exactly the same.
As was the case with Jordan (at least up until the time the investors came on to the scene), a leader who deeply believes in their purpose has an emotional connection to it. This emotional connection fuels their determination and willingness to invest their time, energy, and resources to bring their goals to life. Having said that, a leader’s purpose can be tested when they face scepticism, opposition, or criticism.
“I know that focusing on my purpose first and foremost used to radiate a contagious energy that inspired those around me”, Jordan shared somewhat vulnerably. “My team could see the fire in my eyes; they could hear the passion in my voice; and they could sense the dedication in all my actions”.
Jordan’s impression of relinquishing control to his investors (perceived or otherwise) had clearly hit hard and had started to erode his belief in his purpose.
Companies and teams led by purpose-driven leaders also tend to have deeper impact and endure over the longer term, as their decisions are grounded in a higher calling.
Throughout our session, as Jordan opened up even more, I understood what was fuelling his greatest fear. In his mind, by ‘becoming a puppet’ to his investors and caring less about his purpose, his company would have less of an impact.
A leader who isn’t afraid to show how much they care about their purpose embodies authenticity in its purest form. This was exactly what Jordan had epitomised when he expressed how he had always cared enough about his purpose to look stupid, and even to fail. After all, when a leader openly shares their passion for a purpose, it bridges the gap between hierarchy and camaraderie, making team members feel that they are part of something meaningful and worthwhile.
“My philosophy has always been that belief in a purpose is evident when a leader remains dedicated to the cause over the long term”, Jordan expressed towards the end of our session. “It’s easy to be enthusiastic about a purpose in the beginning, but true belief is demonstrated when a leader’s passion and commitment endure through the ups and downs that come with the passage of time”.
I couldn’t have said it better myself.
When a leader demonstrates unwavering belief, they motivate their team members to push beyond their limits, to think innovatively, and to bring their best selves to their work. A leader’s conviction for their purpose becomes a catalyst for a shared vision and a common goal that transcends individual tasks.
As we neared the end of our session, I explained to Jordan that leaders who embrace their purpose are not only catalysts for immediate change, but also curators of a lasting legacy. Their legacy lives on through the individuals they’ve inspired, the cultures they’ve nurtured, and the positive changes they’ve ignited.
Remember, hellomonday can provide support to every leader, reinforcing habits through curated learning and impactful coaching, reminding leaders not only of the need to have a purpose, but to also genuinely believe in it and transparently embrace it in front of others.