Accountable leaders never tire of asking themselves a tough question: Who am I, really?
They know the answer to that question is always going to be rooted, not in what they say about themselves, but in the actions that they choose to take. These leaders know their actions do one of two things: they either demonstrate full commitment to their chosen purpose in life … or they demonstrate commitment to something else.
Recently, I was talking to one of my clients. I’ll call him Bill. I asked Bill how he had put into practice some of the principles I had shared with him, what the main difference in his life was now, compared to before he began working with me. His answer was immediate and impassioned: “Now, I use my mission in all aspects of my life to empower people.”
When I asked him to give me an example, he said, “I had a tough conversation the other day with someone I was working with. I was giving him some coaching that I knew would help him to step up his game and make a lasting positive impact, but he wasn’t following my lead. So at a certain point, I just looked him straight in the eye and told him, ‘Listen, this is my mission: I inspire greatness in people so that they can leave a legacy they can be proud of. That’s who I am. Now, you can go your own way if you want, and that’s okay, but I really do want to work with you, and if that’s what you choose, then you need to know that us working together means changing some behaviors. So you have a decision to make.’ He thought about what I had said, and he eventually came around. He took on my coaching, and he saw some major positive changes in his life.”
That is what action aligned with purpose looks like. Bill faced a choice: he could step away and say nothing when he encountered that client’s ambivalence about his coaching, or he could take action that aligned with his purpose. He chose to take action. In the moment he took action in support of his purpose, Bill was his truest self — the person he was meant to be.
I tell all my students: “Who you are is the action you take in support of your purpose.” That is a high standard, and it is one I have to remind myself constantly to live up to, but it is reality. When we step away from our purpose, when we fail to take action to support that purpose, we step away from the possibility of living life as the person we are meant to be.
If we say we are committed to inspiring greatness in people, but we have no actions we can point to that support that goal, are we really committed? If we say we believe in helping people create a legacy, but we are not actually doing anything that makes that happen, is that really what we believe? It is our actions, not our words, that identify what we truly believe, and it is our actions that define us as human beings. If we know what our purpose in life is, then it is our duty to take action in support of that purpose. And if we do not yet know what that purpose is, then it is our duty to find out, so we can identify, and take action to prove, who we really are.