Leading With Purpose — Creating A Common Standard For Leaders

Imagine if the first time you were promoted to a leadership role, you had to attend a swearing-in ceremony and recite the “Hippocratic Oath for Leaders,” similar to the commitment new doctors make.

Don’t worry, this isn’t a thing (yet). But the idea that leaders could learn to follow a consistent level of care for their employees, similar to what doctors are asked to make, has some appeal.

In today’s constantly-changing work world, it’s not just a big idea, but something we need.

This is what I talked about last week on the Evolve podcast with Wendy Ryan, a CEO, leadership advisor, and author of Learn, Lead, Lift: How To Think, Act, and Inspire Your Way To Greatness.

Wendy talked about the high levels of change in today’s workplace, where volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity are the norm.

I can’t think of a single day at work or home where I haven’t been faced with one of those conditions. And it’s certainly true for the leaders I work with as well.

Why We Need Consistent Standards for Leaders

For doctors, the Hippocratic Oath is more than a commitment to “do no harm.” They are agreeing to keep a patient’s best interests in mind and provide the highest standards of care. While largely symbolic, it defines a universal standard for medical care.

If we had a similar standard for leaders, employees could count on consistent, fair, and ethical treatment at work, even in the most challenging situations.

Your employees’ energy at work wouldn’t be tied up in wondering how their boss will respond during a crisis or when an issue comes up; they wouldn’t be worrying about whether they were being treated fairly–they could focus on the work.

What would that be like?

Imagining Universal Standards for Leadership

In our conversation, Wendy and I covered a lot of ground for what these shared standards for leadership could be. As a common oath for all leaders, it would require making the following commitments:

  1. Know Yourself: Leaders must learn about their behaviour and its impact on others, and use it to improve their day-to-day leadership work.
  2. Stay Open and Curious: Since change continues to be the new norm, commit to being open-minded, helping teams to make changes quickly and effectively, and being able to bounce back from challenges.
  3. Think Before Acting: Wendy introduced me to the idea of ‘mindful momentum’ —moving, stopping to assess, reorienting, and moving again—into leadership practices. Pausing to consider options before reacting or making decisions removes the risk of the “acting in the heat of the moment” responses leaders can have.
  4. Be Consistent: When employees are stressed out, they can become hypervigilant and overreact because they see risks that might not be present. Creating safe workplaces allows everyone to work with mental and emotional well-being.
  5. Treat Everyone Fairly: Understanding the diverse needs of your workforce and committing to equitable practices for everyone on your team is essential.
  6. Be Flexible: If we use Wendy’s 3T model as the framework here, leaders facing a challenge can choose to either tolerate, transform, or transcend situations, understanding that each choice has implications.
  7. Keep Learning: Leaders need to encourage ongoing learning and development for themselves and their teams. Being willing to adapt and evolve are keys to effective leadership, including being open to trying new ideas and approaches.
  8. Be Ethical and Sustainable: Uphold the highest standards of integrity in all business dealings and drive sustainable practices that benefit not just the company, but also the community and the planet.

Leading Teams To Be “Change Ready”

Wendy and I talked about the importance of knowing when an organization is ready for transformational work. Using change language and kicking off projects isn’t enough; you need to understand if your team can implement more change.

True readiness involves a willingness to step out of comfort zones and confront the discomfort of growth and change.

Living These Standard Day-to-Day

Connecting these principles into your daily leadership practice requires more than just reading about them. It takes time to integrate the changes, assess as you go, and share your progress with your team.

Be Open to Feedback

Wendy talked about receiving feedback that people initially find her cold. “It was really impactful for me,” she recalled, “because I never thought of myself as anything other than warm and sensitive.” I had a similar experience (which I talk about in Evolve) when I was told it was intense to work with me, even though I thought it was a way to show connection and commitment.

This is a humbling reality to accept and yet when we do, it gives us an opportunity to make changes that improve the working experience for everyone around us.

I would love to see every organization commit to a consistent standard of leadership and define what these elements should be for their leaders. Beyond performance standards or competencies, it means defining a consistent employee experience, something that sets the bar for the ethical, sustainable, and compassionate leadership qualities needed for the complex times we’re working in today.

💡What do you think? Would the corporate world benefit from a common standard for all leaders to uphold? Did we miss any criteria?

Picture of Carolyn Swora

Carolyn Swora

Carolyn is a leadership consultant, team coach, certified Dare To Lead™ facilitator, and two-time bestselling author. Her most recent book, Evolve: The Path to Trauma-Informed Leadership, brings new focus to an often ignored, yet critical leadership component: the nervous system. In her work with organizations, from phama to non-profits, Carolyn focuses on driving change through leadership focused on compassion and humility.

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