Finding Satisfaction for Life-The Leadership Pursuit of Significance

February 16, 2015

Finding Satisfaction for Life-The Leadership Pursuit of Significance

I recently came across an article on Will Smith the actor. In it he talks about the discouragement he faced when the movie, After Earth, didn't do so well. He describes the experience as "a thing got broken in my mind."

After years of success and blockbusters, the reality of one of his movies being a flop brought him to a new stage of realization. Below is a part of the interview that I was most intrigued with, especially as it relates to leadership because it highlights one of the critical areas of focus for a leader; their orientation. Here is a quote from the article.

"I completely released the concept of goal-orientation and got into path-orientation – this moment, this second, these people, this interaction,” he explained in true Hollywood style. “It is a huge relief for me to not care whether or not Focus is number one or number 10 at the box office. I’ve already gained everything I could have possibly hoped for by meeting the people and the creation of what we did together.”

Smith's comments related to orientation are instructive. Especially in the way he has prepared himself for his next movie project, Focus. The way we orient our lives has significant personal impact. It can help us to frame our successes and failures with perspectives that are healthy and life-affirming.

There are four basic orientations that a leader adopts. All four are active in most leaders lives, but only one is the most self-rewarding over time. Smith alludes to it in the quote so here are the four with a brief description of each.

1. Task Oriented

This is the most basic orientation of the four. With every leadership position there are responsibilities associated with the role. As rudimentary as this orientation is, problems arise if a leader builds his entire platform on simply getting the job done. Its an existence that is primarily governed by the circumstances and needs of the moment with little personal reward beyond the accomplishment of maintaining the status-quo.

No doubt that in the life of every leader there are seasons when we simply have to roll up our sleeves and get the hard slugging out of the way. That's the reality of work that needs to get done. But measuring your life by the number of tasks you are able to complete does little to encourage nurturing your deeper self as a leader. Other features are:

  • less concerned with team or employee satisfaction
  • roles are usually structured and well-defined
  • progress can be easily monitored

2. Goal Oriented

We hear a lot about the importance of setting goals, and for most leaders, its a natural part of their make-up. One of the upsides of this orientation is clearly defined outcomes. A potential down-side exists depending on the goal.

For instance, if the goal is to make more money, everything, including people that do not contribute to achieving the goal become a liability. Many leadership sources would group task and goal orientation in the same general category.

I've separated them for the one reason. There are goal-oriented leaders who are more concerned about achieving the larger aims or purposes of the organizations they lead, which at times, goes beyond just accomplishing a number of tasks. Other features include:

  • clarity of end-results
  • focus of energy and resources
  • ability to monitor and gage progress
  • can treat people like a means to an end

3. Relationship Oriented

These leaders are not so much concerned about the tasks or goals of the organization but about the environments that exist for their teams, volunteers, and employees. Its more about well-being than accomplishing something that may or may not be seen as most valuable to the leader.

A leader who is relationally oriented usually has a high likability factor. But as many studies have shown, likability does not always equal productivity, in fact, it can limit it. Other features include:

  • emphasis on relational facilitation and motivation
  • better interpersonal management and communication
  • potential for a leaders position to be weakened along with any potential productivity goals

4. Path Oriented

In my mind, this is the most rewarding and self-satisfying of the four. Primarily because it puts the other three, Task, Goal, and Relationship Orientation, into a proper and larger framework. A leader, with clarity of their path, will utilize the orientation that best suites each situation.

For example, in the quote from Will Smith above, his path is to enjoy everything in the moment; the people, what they are producing together, etc. His previous failure has not defined him, but refined his path so that his satisfaction is measured differently, not just by one indicator, i.e., box-office sales.

Path oriented leaders are often more self-aware, usually because they have been able to filter through the dross of what brings true satisfaction and not be too tied to the superficial. The simple pattern that most of us venture through life entails going from survival to success to significance.

Most path oriented leaders have landed in the significance zone, finding their value in more honourable pursuits such as faith, purpose, family, volunteering, and so forth. In the church world we often use the terminology of finding the will of God.

In many ways it is the Christian version of path-orientation. That we find our significance in Christ and measure our failures and successes by different rubrics. Where obedience and faithfulness are often more important than results because as we all know, we can be winners one day and easily the loser next.

Thanks to Will Smith, it was a good reminder of where our orientation needs to be, and the difference it can make for every kingdom citizen, not just leaders.

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