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The Path to Purposeful Leadership | A Q&A with Author Mark Hannum

October 9, 2019 Emma Brooks

The world’s greatest leaders focus on three critical things: they are committed to accomplishing something that matters; they articulate a vision that others embrace; and they demonstrate a series of five commitments to themselves and their teams. 

Mark Hannum, Chief Research Officer at Linkage, knows what it means to be purposeful.  

As a leading Executive Coach, Consultant, Practitioner and Researcher in the leadership field, he has analyzed more than 30 years of leadership data and more than 100,000 leadership assessments. This work has culminated in Linkage’s most recent book, Become: The Five Commitments of Purposeful Leadership, available now for order at all major booksellers.   

I was curious to learn more about Mark, what inspired him to write this, how he got to where he is in his career, and a few other fun facts along the way. 

What inspired you to write Become: The Five Commitments of Purposeful Leadership? 

I think it was finding the answer to the age-old question, “How do I be a better leader?” When you find something that you believe can help a lot of people, you want to spread the word. And this has that kind of impact on me. Purposeful Leadership is a message that I think is valuable to leaders everywhere and it’s worth my time to get the message out there.  

Who inspires you as a leader? 

This almost too big of a question to answer! Frances Hesselbein immediately comes to mind. She took over a very troubled Girl Scout organization and built it into a powerhouse for young women. William J. O’Brien at Hanover Insurance was amazing to watch as he envisioned and grew a small property-casualty insurance company into a multi-billion dollar enterprise while simultaneously changing how we think about organizations. I’m also endlessly fascinated by musician-leaders, including orchestra and band leaders, who work with their musicians and change the face of music in their era. I’m inspired by leaders who considers what is happening in their world, internalize something unique and personal about it, and then shape their identity and actions to make something different happen.   

I understand your initial career aspirations were very different from where you landed. Can you tell us about them? 

I think there were my ambitions, and then my mother’s ambitions that landed on me at some point. I wanted to be an academic, a professor. I loved research and figuring out the history of a problem as much as I loved finding solutions to it. My mother wanted me to be a priest. I got something from both in a very slow-developing chemical reaction. As early as nine or ten years old, I can remember questioning the motives and values of people who I was told were leaders, but they seemed to not be interested in anything but their own self-interest. It was easy to contrast those individuals with the more selfless leaders who were all around me. When becoming either a priest or a college professor became more and more unlikely, I found places to work or roles to work in that got me experience in understanding leadership and organizations. Time and temperature controlled the chemical reaction from there.   

Can you give us a specific example of a time when you felt like a truly purposeful leader? 

There have been multiple times where I’ve felt purposeful as a leader. At Hanover Insurance, I led multiple initiatives that were part of how we as a company attained competitive advantage. I also led several efforts that made us a better organization overall. I’ve tried to work, quietly, as a leader and consultant on many of our accounts to change the way they achieve their mission and become a better organization at the same time. And finding a way to do the research, enlarge that research effort within Linkage, and ultimately conceptualize Purposeful Leadership has been an amazing opportunity to be a part of the greater Linkage community and create something meaningful.  

How important is self-awareness to becoming a purposeful leader? 

Self-awareness is critical, but not necessarily the way it gets advertised in blogs, articles, and workshops.  Every human being is capable of so many different things. Finding “the thing” that we want to do to make our own individual mark on the world is hard. It’s even harder to then go and do it! We have friends and relatives who don’t think we should, we have frivolous things that we can do with our time, and we have so many obligations—real obligations—that we need to meet along the way. It’s hard to find that inner voice that then compels us to work hard at something else and make a difference. So, while knowing your strengths, weaknesses, tendencies and preferences is important, I believe that knowing how you want your story to turn out—knowing how you want to shape the world, is a far more difficult and important component of self-awareness.     

Which of the five commitments of Purposeful Leadership (Inspire, Engage, Innovate, Achieve, and Become) do you find most leaders struggle with? 

Leaders struggle with all five of the commitments. Leaders who are very effective leaders integrate their ability to Inspire, Engage, Innovate, and Achieve with their Become. Become is the commitment that manifests how leadership behaviors come out of us. It is the integrator. Most leaders focus on the achieve commitment and struggle with being effective. We have a lot of numbers that tell us that the best leaders inspire and become as their best commitments and are simultaneously very inclusive—a quality of all five commitments. Become—that quality of self-awareness, courage, commitment of purpose, and respect for others—is a struggle for many.   

Which New England Sports team do you feel currently exhibits the best example of purposeful leadership? 

There is a lot of discomfort in trying to answer this question. First, regardless of standings or win-loss records, New England Sports teams all strive for excellence not just on the field, but in the community. Every single team is generous and supportive of the city of Boston and all surrounding areas. Each continually improves the experience for their fans. Each team sets high standards and works hard to achieve them. We don’t know how lucky we are to live in a part of the country with such talented teams, getting to experience their achievements on the field, court, and ice. Being a Boston sports fan becomes part of our identity. I can literally go anywhere in the world and see someone wearing the instantly recognizable ball cap with the Bosox B in our very own Bosox font, or the Flying Elvis of the Patriots, or the all too familiar leprechaun, or the hub representing Boston in the Bruins logo. They all are becoming great examples of Purposeful Leadership.   

If you could give your younger self one piece of advice on leadership, what would it be? 

I would tell my younger self to show up more fully. For decades I have struggled with being in my own head, not knowing what was happening around me or even right in front of me. This can be a great quality for an academic or a researcher, but not great for someone who is leading people. My advice to my younger self would be to be present in the room, in the conversation, in the activity, the event. We have these amazing brains that allow us to be in the past, the present, and the future whenever we want…I would dial up the present more and enjoy it. 

Do you have a favorite hobby that helps you decompress after a long day/week? 

I am a golfer, and it is amazing how that has shaped my perspective on leadership. It has taught me that you cannot be perfect, that when you are perfect bad shots can still happen, that bad shots are opportunities to excel, that who you play with is more important than your score, and that you never stop trying to get better.  

Looking for more about Purposeful Leadership? In Become: The Five Commitments of Purposeful Leadership (McGraw-Hill Education), Mark reveals the evidence-based secrets that surfaced from vast data Linkage has collected on leadership effectiveness. This critical leadership guide is designed to introduce leaders to the five commitments Purposeful Leaders make to themselves and their teams.  

We welcome you to download an excerpt from Become: The Five Commitments of Purposeful Leadership, and purchase your own copy on Amazon

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