Why Leading with a Purpose is So Important

Over the years, I have come to realize a few things about leadership: failure can teach just as much as success, the impact of servant leadership, and perhaps most importantly, leading with purpose. These principles have driven my own means of leadership in both my executive career and as Marshall University’s President. I am grateful to have learned these principles from special, trusted mentors. Leaders are not necessarily born, they are nurtured and built by experiences big and small. For me, one of the key aspects to becoming an effective leader is finding the purpose behind your leadership.

Throughout my life, I have applied the idea of leading with purpose across the various jobs I’ve held. Combining my desire for servant leadership with developing a purpose that everyone can get behind helped shape my leadership, which in turn has helped my teams to be successful and make an impact.

Defining Leading with a Purpose

I have previously written about the importance of having a purpose when in a leadership role. This is truly one of the top responsibilities of a leader. Uniting a team under one purpose moves a team from “me” to “we.” It brings everyone together, which in turn, creates a cohesive environment for both the leader and team members to grow and be successful. It also entails leading by example, something I’ve aimed to do through much of my life. For me, this has meant giving back to the communities that have shaped me.

One of my proudest personal examples of this is through the Wing 2 Wing Foundation. West Virginia is the house that built me. My Appalachian roots have given me a unique perspective and skill set that I will forever carry with me, which is why establishing the Wing 2 Wing Foundation was so important to me. My wife Alys and I created Wing 2 Wing with the purpose of uplifting Appalachian communities and bringing awareness to its untapped potential to collectively make a difference in education, entrepreneurship, and the environment. In defining its purpose, we have been able to identify these pillars in which to give back to Appalachians and encourage others to see the power of these communities as well.

Inspiring Leaders at Marshall

As Marshall University’s President, a primary focus of mine is to ensure the next generation is equipped with the skills they need to succeed outside the classroom. From the Student Incubator, to incorporating design thinking into curriculums, these programs aim to give students confidence and help them find their own purpose.

It is important to instill the future generation with leadership skills because of the ever-changing technological landscape that will face them in their future careers. Already, artificial intelligence (AI) and other emerging technologies are presenting modern challenges and rapid change to leaders in all areas. This generation has grown up with constantly changing technologies that they’ve continuously adapted to — making them an exceptional resource to future employers. Despite the technological advances that are here now, and still to come, ensuring that this next wave of leaders remain purpose-driven and inspired to lead is imperative to their future success.

Looking to the Future

I hope to leave a legacy that encourages others to lead with purpose, whether that’s a future university president or a small business owner finding their way. We need to empower strong leaders who have a common destination, a true purpose, behind their leadership so they can lead people to achieve a goal that benefits everyone.

There are so many ways to learn about leadership and how to be an effective, purpose-driven leader beyond lessons from a book or classroom. Oftentimes, the most impactful leadership lessons come from our own everyday experiences. An overlooked aspect of building one’s own leadership skills is paying attention to the hidden lessons in our daily lives that teach us how to be leaders to our neighbors, families, and friends.  These are things the leaders of tomorrow will need to continue to grow — keeping agile and willing to alter and change, while still maintaining the vision and purpose you want to follow.

As for me, I will continue to lead with people in mind — whether that be the students of Marshall or my fellow West Virginians. I hope to make an impact in the community that built me and return the opportunity to those community members. I hope that this inspires others to lead with purpose in whatever the future holds.