You can’t lead if you don’t know where you’re going

Summer is almost over and little by little, we’re getting back to something resembling normal. We spent last week in Montreat, NC, and it was absolutely something that I needed to round out the summer.

Montreat is a small, cutest-thing-ever of a town located in the North Carolina mountains, three and a half hours from Atlanta. It’s both a college town (Montreat College) and a Presbyterian retreat/conference area, with old buildings and even older homes (the one we stayed in was built in 1908!) intertwined along roads and paths, complete with rivers and streams and the small but perfect Lake Susan.

We spent much of the week exploring the town, and on one particular day my youngest daughter, Hannah, got out ahead of us and, not knowing where we were going, took a confident turn left instead of right.

“Hannah, it’s this way,” I called out as I led the rest of the family to the right. As she caught up to us and retook her place at the front of the pack, I said to her, “Hannah, you know, you can’t really lead if you don’t know where we’re going. Didn’t you wonder where we’re trying to go?”

She laughed and, taking a step back so that we were side-by-see, grabbed my hand and said, “I just wanted everyone to follow me!”

In a big family like ours, with her being the second youngest, I totally get that. I shared our destination with her and she once again jumped out in front of us, excited to be the one to lead for once.

How can you lead if you don’t know where you‘re going?

Hannah eventually led us to the Robert Lake Park, which is without a doubt my favorite park on the planet. Several streams converge amongst three different playground areas, giving kids an unlimited number of things to do. My favorite thing to do there is read a book while listening to the rushing water (I read two books during the trip, numbers 34 and 35 for the year), occasionally pushing this kid on a swing or lifting that kid up to reach the monkey bars.

After getting settled into one of the picnic tables, I reflected on Hannah’s willingness to lead with no idea where she was headed. At first glance, this could be seen as a problem relegated to the young and inexperienced. After all, why would anyone think they could lead if they didn’t know where they were headed?

If there is such a thing, I’m what you might call a student of leadership. And I like to contribute my own thoughts to the space, having written two books on leadership and with another one coming out in September (more details below). 

I find that more often than not, people leading a team, division, or even an entire company, often don’t really know where they’re headed. Sure, you might know what objectives you have this week, this month, or even this year. But if you don’t know where your team should ultimately be headed, then you can’t be sure the work you’re doing today will get you there.

This is why I write so much about PVTV – Purpose, Vision, Tenets, & Values. It is my preferred framework to figure out what your team is ultimately trying to accomplish (and how you will accomplish it). 

Whatever your method is, please make sure that if you’re leading people, you know where you’re headed. Leadership, in my mind, is a massive responsibility, and thus should be taken seriously. 

The captain of a ship must know the ultimate destination, otherwise the map makes no sense.

This also applies to your life!

The most important thing I can leave with you — and in fact, it is the same thing I tell every group I get a chance to talk with — is that you simply must find your personal Purpose. 

Not knowing my Purpose earlier in life is the only regret I truly have.

Your Purpose will guide you through life, helping you understand what’s special about you, why you’re here on this planet, the change you want to make in the world, and how you’re going to go after it!

My simple formula for finding your Purpose:

Step 1: Understand what your superpower is. (What are you truly exceptional at and love doing?)

Step 2: Define the change you want to see in the world. (What do you get fired up about fixing in our society? What wrong do you want to see righted?)

Step 3: Put those together into as succinct a statement as you possibly can. (Take your time with this. Let it sit with you, play with it, and share it with people that care about you until you land on something that just feels right.)

Here’s what mine looks like. Good luck!

The Point

Whether it’s your team, your company, your life, or even your family on a hike, if you don’t know where you’re headed — and you can’t clearly communicate that to the people following you — then you really shouldn’t be leading. 

I hope you’re happy,

Jeff

PS – I will never look at bears the same way again 🤦