Skip to main content
New Leadership

Leading with Purpose: The Ikigai Method

From August 26, 2022May 2nd, 2023No comments
Leading with Purpose: The Ikigai Method

New Leadership begins with a new understanding of leadership. Old behavior patterns must be questioned and new ones created. Asking the right questions is essential here, especially the question of the big why. Leading with purpose - how does that work?

Change begins in the head

In the vast majority of cases, new leadership means changing previous approaches or at least critically questioning them. However, changing leadership methods is of no use if there is no fundamental rethinking; on the contrary. Visible changes, such as the purchase of a new coffee corner or the establishment of agile teams, raise expectations among employees in a striking manner. However, if such external changes do not go hand in hand with the internal attitude or mindset, this will sooner or later lead to confusion. 

Representing a new understanding of leadership

As a leader, it is essential to reflect on the previous leadership behavior and to change it accordingly. Imposed change projects - especially if they concern leadership - are doomed to failure because leadership roles are no longer authentic. Therefore, it is important to develop your own motivation and to start with your own person. Leading by example, being open and actively listening to employees are qualities of modern leadership. Of course, it is desirable to have an organization that has a clear vision regarding the understanding of leadership. Sometimes, however, the most pragmatic way is for a leader to take the first step as an individual. And even if this step seems small, it gets the change rolling.

The question of meaning

The term "Purpose" stands for purpose or meaningfulness. It is intended to answer the question of "why" and thus to answer the deeper meaning of a company's existence. If a company understands how it can communicate this purpose to its customers, identification with the company increases and with it loyalty. A prominent example of this is IKEA with its slogan "Are you still living or are you already living? This makes it clear with which claim the company approaches its customers:inside. This is a much more profound message than "We have affordable and practical sofa beds". IKEA consistently distinguishes between the "what" - namely the sofa bed - and the "why" - helping customers to live a beautiful life. 

Leading with Purpose

How can this concept be applied to the topic of leadership? In the case of leadership, it is not so much our customers as our employees whom we want to reach with our "why". Simon Sinek, one of the pioneers of the topic of purpose, distinguishes between manipulative tactics and genuine tactics, because motivation is characterized by a sense of purpose. In doing so, he admits that manipulation works. What can such motivators be? Bonus payments tied to hitting certain numbers are one example. Or a strong focus on directionality - moving toward a particular goal rather than away from something. Also effective, but essentially harmful, are spreading peer pressure or fear. However, these tactics lose their effectiveness every time we use them, and leaders will eventually get only one transaction. For example, exchanging work time for money or completing a task out of fear of the boss:in. It is clear that with this style we do not generate the best performance, loyalty and recommendation of our employees. The principle of The principle of carrots and sticks only gets leaders to a certain point, which no one really wants to reach.

That's why it's worthwhile in everyday management not only to define and communicate the "what", i.e. the tasks, but also the "why": Why do we do these tasks every day? What does this project mean to us? To what extent does an activity contribute to the shared vision?  

The Ikigai Method

Having clarity about the purpose and meaningfulness of a particular task or project is extremely important for motivated teams and employees. It requires a clear answer to the question: Why is it worth getting up in the morning and coming to work?

That is usually easier said than done. The question of "What?" often dominates everyday business. What do we sell to customers? Which task is being done by whom? What's next on my to-do list? The question of the purpose behind it is easily lost. But it is worthwhile to keep this question in mind and to question work steps again and again.

The Ikigai method introduces the "Why?" through targeted questions and is an easy approach to introduce teams to this topic. Ikigai comes from the Japanese and stands for the search for meaningfulness or what is worth living for. 

Ikigai method: With four questions to the ideal state

The purpose, the meaning or even the ideal state according to the Ikigai method is always the intersection of four different questions.

What are we good at?

The question about the core competencies or the unique selling points reveals obvious strengths and characteristics of the company and also of the team. Development competence, technical knowledge or bringing a complex product to series maturity could be the answers here.

What do we want to do?

What motivates us? What are our team and individual members passionate about? What is the heart of the company beating for? In which direction would the organization want to develop even without an immediate commercial benefit? 

What does the world or the customers need?

The question of the deep, inner conviction of the company: What problem does the organization want to solve? What does it want to bring about or leave behind? From the customer perspective, this must definitely be thought of beyond the product. Put simply: A customer doesn't want pudding powder, but a stress-free, leisurely meal with the kids. Taking the automotive industry as an example, a customer doesn't want an airbag, but rather to get from A to B safely and comfortably.

What is our customer willing to pay for?

This question must be answered in particular in comparison to the competition. The commercial benefit comes into play here. Taking the example of the car manufacturer, it is now necessary to distinguish which features have such a great added value for customers that additional costs would be accepted for them.

The Purpose is sometimes not so easy to find. The Ikigai model shows that it is important to look at several dimensions and to think beyond the product or the activity.

Building a new understanding of leadership is not easy. Questioning old behavior patterns can be challenging if you are stuck in the organizational bubble yourself. So it always makes sense to get external support for such processes - in whatever form. We offer exactly this support with our consulting services.