Lead with Purpose: A conversation with John Baldoni

John Baldoni

John Baldoni is an internationally recognized leadership consultant, coach, author and educator.

John has taught what it means to inspire at the top of a mountain in the Canadian Rockies. At sea level in Orlando, Florida, he spoke to nearly one thousand USAF/JAG commissioned and non-commissioned officers on leadership and communication. And a recent book, Lead Your Boss, was hailed by Harvard Business Review as a “guide that provides useful advice… [and] is encouraging and inspirational.”

In 2011, Leadership Gurus named John number 11 on its list of top thirty global leadership gurus. In 2009, he was named one of the world’s top 25 leadership experts by Top Leadership Gurus International. Fall 2011 marked the publication of John’s tenth book, Lead With Purpose: Giving Your Organization a Reason to Believe in Itself. Over the past decade he has established himself as world authority on topics that matter to leaders who are seeking insight into leadership challenges of the day. Through his books and his many columns for leading business publications, John has become a source of practical wisdom on topics such as influencing without authority, applying power appropriately, leading with grace and conviction, and developing genuine followership.

All of these topics complement John’s mission to help individuals and their organization achieve positive results. Consequently John’s books have been translated into multiple languages including Mandarin, Hungarian, Indonesian, Japanese, Korean, Thai, Spanish and Vietnamese. John speaks widely to corporate, professional, military and university audiences. Those who attend John’s keynotes and workshops find his advice to be practical and his advice inspirations.

John is the president of Baldoni Consulting LLC, an executive coaching and leadership development firm.

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Morris: Before discussing Lead with Purpose, a few general questions. Who has had the greatest influence on your personal growth?

Baldoni: Without a doubt, my parents. Plain and simple!

Morris: The greatest impact on your professional development?

Baldoni: I have had the opportunity to work with men and women who are passionate about what they do. I cite three examples of excellence in the dedication to my book, Lead With Purpose: Dan Denison for challenging me to write; Marshall Goldsmith, for demonstrating how to ask BIG questions; and Mike Useem for teaching me the art of interdisciplinary leadership.

Morris: Was there a turning point (if not an epiphany) in the past that set you on the career course that you continue to follow? Please explain.

Baldoni: I began my career in communications and had the privilege of working with senior leaders in a variety of different business sectors. Eventually I decided that rather than helping them develop messages I wanted to help shape lives, that is through teaching, coaching and writing.

Morris: To what extent has your formal education proven invaluable to what you have accomplished thus far?

Baldoni: My undergraduate degree is in English and I write. Pretty direct   correlation I’d say. My master’s degree is in adult education and performance consulting. Again a tight correlation.

Morris: Let’s pretend that you have agreed to be a guest instructor for one class comprised of exceptionally intelligent and energetic students who are preparing for a career in writing non-fiction. Of all that you have learned during more than three decades of doing that, which specific lessons do you think the students will find most valuable?

Baldoni: Great question and one I am asked all of the time. Three leaders must do: be seen, be heard, be there. One, let people know you are around. Two, connect the dots between purpose and work and listen, listen, listen. Three, be available to do whatever the organization needs you to do. That’s leadership.

Morris: You have written extensively about what great leadership is…and isn’t. You have written entire books about great communicators and great motivators. Here’s my question. However different they may have been in most respects, were all of the greatest leaders throughout history   both great communicators and great motivators?

Baldoni: All leaders must be good communicators. But let’s be clear, communications is not the same as oratory. Let me give you an example. General George C. Marshall was an exemplary public servant and military officer. He helped mobilize our nation for the Second World War and helped lay the foundation for peace as Secretary of State. He communicated through words, but more loudly through his actions.

Morris: Here are two two-part questions. First, What are the defining skills and characteristics of a great communicator and can almost anyone become one? If so, how?

Baldoni: Communication comes with practice. As a leader you must speak the truth; listen for understanding; and learn from what you hear and do not hear.

Morris: Next, what are the defining skills and characteristics of a great motivator and can almost anyone become one? If so, how?

Baldoni: Leaders do not motivate per se. They create conditions for people to motivate themselves. They do it by communicating clearly, setting clear expectations, following through and recognizing performance.

Morris: Of all the changes that have occurred in the U.S. workplace during (let’s say) the last 12-15 years, which change do you consider to be most significant? Why?

Baldoni: We are living in times of great uncertainty. Likely no more so than in previous times but the sense of ambiguity may be more pervasive in light of the financial crash from which we have yet to recover. That means leaders need to step up their game. They need to more specifically   in providing direction and in delivering inspiration.

Morris: Your new book is Lead With Purpose. Why did you choose to write about purpose?

Baldoni: There are some terrific resources on how to find individual purpose but relative resources on how to discover purpose and apply to an organization. My challenge was to show organizations how they could   unlock the purpose of their organizations and put it to good use for employees to apply to their own jobs. The net effect is to help individuals, teams and organizations to optimize performance by understanding how to use purpose for good intention.

Morris: How do leaders instill purpose in the organization?

Baldoni: Leaders instill purpose through their words and their actions. Their communications demonstrate a commitment to vision and mission, but their behaviors underscore its real importance. What a leader does is   far more important than what he or she says. People want to see action and help achieve results.

Morris: How can leaders ensure they have purpose in their own lives?

No one can dictate purpose to another. We discover it for ourselves. Typically leaders know what makes them tick so they do have a purpose, be it to advance their career, achieve some wealth, and be recognized for   their efforts. Where they need help is reminding themselves of why they chose their career and their company. They also need to decide periodically if they need to do something new and different. Purpose is an inner compass that points us in the right direction.

Purpose also needs to be nurtured. It gains resolve when faced with adversity. The ability to overcome obstacles and challenges is daunting but when accomplished gives us a great feeling of achievement. At the same time we need to nurture purpose by exposing ourselves to new opportunities. We need to learn continuously and we need to teach what we learn to others.

All of these things, and many more, help shape and develop the sense of a leader’s purpose so that he or she can provide greater service to the organization.

Morris: In your various books and articles, you have much of value to say about resistance to change and how to avoid or overcome it. In your opinion, what seems to be the biggest problem that people seem to have when attempting to identify their own purpose?

Baldoni: That’s easy. They don’t take the time to do so. Focusing on one’s own purpose is a matter of considering what you want to do, why you want to do it, and how you will do it. Easy questions, but they do provide deep thought.

Morris: When attempting to inspire purposeful people?

Baldoni: Leaders who lead purposeful organizations are those who put people first. No, it’s not a cliché when they actually do it. It means they set clear expectations, provide adequate resources, coach for success, and evaluate for results.

Morris: When attempting to turn purpose into high-impact results?

Baldoni: Results come from purpose because it is the outcome of what you striving to do. For example, if you run a cardiac care center your goal is best in class cardiac career. Your purpose is to help people leave more healthy lives. Communicating that outcome to all stakeholders (physicians, nurses, support staff, etc.) a clear goal.

Morris: When developing the next generation of purposeful leaders?

Baldoni: Purposeful organizations develop the next generation, not simply the next leader. My friend Marshall Goldsmith, bestselling author and leading executive coach, does not like the term succession planning. Better to say, “succession development.” That means you are focusing on multiple managers and grooming them to lead.

Morris: For those who have not as yet read Lead with Purpose, what are the three lessons that any leader in crisis can learn from George Washington?

Baldoni: From the hindsight of history George Washington seems larger than life, more statuesque than man. Too bad! Washington’s greatness as a leader was courage under fire and persistence in the face of obstacles. Yet even he at times doubted himself. But he put those doubts aside and forged ahead, convinced of his noble purpose.

Morris: Of all that that can be learned from the results of the “2010 Leadership Survey,” what do you think will prove to be of greatest value to the business leaders who read your book? Why?

Baldoni: Good leaders are focused, directive, and inspiring… in other words, purposeful. People want to look up to leaders, not because they think they are better than us, but because good leaders provide us with a sense of purpose that inspires us to do better.

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John cordially invites you to check out the resources at these websites:

To learn about services that John offers visit www.johnbaldoni.com.

To learn more about what it takes to lead with purpose, visit www.leadwithpurpose.biz.









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  1. John Baldoni: A third interview by Bob Morris on November 24, 2013 at 8:59 am

    […] To read the second interview, please click here. […]

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