This was our opening question for a recent day on leadership with the management team of an international global client.

Why did we ask this obvious question? Because it is hardly ever asked. Instead, most writings, teachings and lectures on leadership describe the role of leadership and how Great Leaders should think, act, behave, talk, eat, work out, live, meditate, whatever…

We deeply believe that creating a shared view of the purpose of leadership is critical for starting a proper and productive conversation, even though this hardly ever happens.

These were our client’s first answers regarding the purpose of leadership:

“Creating a ‘We Spirit.’ Supporting the employees. Giving directions. Initiating and leading change. Distributing scarce resources. Inspiring people. Managing stakeholders…”

Upps. We asked a “WHY” question and got a “WHAT/HOW/WHO” answer.

Next round: “Reach a shared goal. Reach a goal collectively. To manifest, actualize, realize an organization’s purpose.” That sounded much better to us. So, we nailed it down to

“The purpose of leadership is to manifest/realize the organization’s purpose.”

Now, all of a sudden, the day started to be a different one. Based on this shared finding, we didn’t talk about “what is a good leader” and all of the billions of concepts everyone had in his/her mind. We talked about how they/you as a leader can best contribute to bring the organization’s purpose to life. (In case the organization’s purpose is not clear, or there is no conscious awareness of what it is, it might be a good idea to explore that first.)

We created a clear orientation for our discussion: what are the activities (WHAT), what are some major important principles (HOW), and WHO are the people best equipped in this organization to help the organization’s purpose come true. All of a sudden, we had a different conversation, free from dogmas, concepts and theory, but full of energy, real-life experiences and very specific outcomes.

It was a relief to take off the dogmatic and moralist burden of most “leadership” discussions. Instead we crafted very simple and powerful tools.

Those tools are simply questions: “How can we manifest the organization’s purpose? Does this help to realize the organization’s purpose? What – out of the options – helps realizing the organization’s purpose most (under the given circumstances)?”

This also helps to remember what “leadership” really is: an activity and a tool – and not a purpose of its own.