Fortune Top 50 Leaders: The Why

Fortune just published a list of the top 50 leaders. At the top of the list was Pope Francis.

An excerpt about the Pope: “His hardest work lies ahead. And yet signs of a ‘Francis effect’ abound: In a poll in March, one in four Catholics said they’d increased their charitable giving to the poor this year. Of those, 77% said it was due in part to the Pope.”

Clearly, the Pope sees his mission as larger than he, writes Garry Burnison.

The point is that a mission, or purpose, actually humbles great leaders. Each is, in reality, a person on a mission forwarding a company, a people, or all humanity at a point in time.

In essence, purpose is the “why” of any organization whether it is a business, a religious organization, or a non-profit. And any leader immersed in operations is managing the what, how, and when of their organization. What are we doing? How are we getting it done? And, when will we deliver?

Behind those operational questions is the ultimate question – the “why” of the organization. “Why” are we doing what we are doing? “Why” is it improving people’s lives? “Why” is it making the world better?

With that in mind, I randomly listed a few people on this year’s Fortune list. For each, I pulled an excerpt from the article that explains their mission, or “why.” Please note how each mission, purpose, “why,” eclipses each of them.

Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany: “Played the lead role in managing Europe’s debt crisis, keeping the EU intact while setting even Greece on the road to recovery.”

Bono, Lead Singer, U2: “He helped persuade global leaders to write off debt owed by the poorest countries and encouraged the Bush administration and others to vastly increase AIDS relief.”

Paul Polman, CEO, Unilever: “Polman took a big risk by declaring his — to double the company’s size even while reducing its environmental footprint and increasing its positive social impact.”

Maria Klawe, President, Harvey Mudd College: “A mathematician and computer scientist by training, Klawe is leading the charge to bring more women into science, technology, and engineering.”

Peter Diamandis, CEO, X Prize Foundation: “Diamandis presides over X Prize Foundation, which hosts $10 million competitions to solve global problems.”

In finding the “why,” or common purpose, every great leader, I believe, starts with one key trait: listening. I have noted that listening is active, not passive. Think of it this way: every conversation you have is an opportunity to sit at the feet of a guru.

A person with that perspective is humbled by those around him or her. And each person, who listens intently, is in the position to hear and see problems and opportunities others miss.

Through deep listening and observation, great leaders discover their organization’s mission that drives everything else. It is the “why.”

“Why” drives the keys to leadership including having purpose, strategy, navigation, communication and more. “Why” creates a culture where people buy-in and are engaged.

People become part of a mission bigger than themselves. So, peruse through the top 50 leaders. As you do, you will learn what I have. Each leader has a purpose to do something bigger than him or her.

So are great leaders driven by “why?” The answer is “yes.”

And the greatest leaders rise to meet the challenge of the mission to make great change — bigger than themselves, their country, their company, their organization.

Because, in the end, the leader’s leader is his or her organization’s purpose. No need to ask why.

To read the article in its original source please click here.

Photos (left to right) Sebastian Derungs / Flickr, alexanderkurz/Flickr, AFP/Getty Images, Fortune Live Media/flickr, farber/Flickr