Purpose-Driven Leadership: The Parable Of The Two Wolves

John Blakey
John Blakey
28 May, 2024
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It may surprise you that your purpose lives next door to your trauma. In other words, that which has the power to destroy you lives next door to that which has the power to make you a force for good.


Let me explain that some more through the Native American story of the two wolves, a metaphor for internal conflict. A man explains to his granddaughter that there are two wolves fighting inside each of us:

“There is a fight going on in me,” the old man says. “It’s taking place between two wolves. One is evil—he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority and ego.” The grandfather looks at the granddaughter and goes on. “The other embodies positive emotions. He is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion and faith. Both wolves are fighting to the death. The same fight is happening inside you and every other person, too.” The granddaughter takes a moment to reflect on this. At last, she looks up at her grandfather and asks, “Which wolf will win?” The old man gives a simple reply: “The one you feed.”

If we wish to thrive as purpose-driven leaders, we need to feed the wolf of our purpose rather than the wolf of our trauma. How do we do that? We must consciously create a diet that nourishes our potential to be a force for good. I have divided that diet into three categories—the up, in and out of purpose-driven leadership:

• Up—How do you discover, connect with, serve and feel the joy of your higher calling?

• In—How do you manage your motivation, resilience and spiritual well-being as you pursue your higher calling?


• Out—How do you lead your followers by forgiving the individual, protecting the team (and purpose) and becoming a beacon of hope?

As leaders, we each have blind spots regarding these three dimensions. For example, some of my clients find it easy to attend to the up and in of purpose-driven leadership but find it much more difficult to inspire others to follow them on the journey. I call these leaders the zealots because they have the passion and determination to pursue their calling, but they risk looking over their shoulders and finding that nobody is following them because the intensity of their zeal is off-putting. I have a touch of the zealot in me.

Then you have the leaders who have mastered the up and outdimensions but struggle to put on their own oxygen masks before helping others. I call these leaders the martyrs since they risk burning out as they serve the purpose and others with admirable diligence and loyalty but overlook their own needs to the point where they can no longer sustain the journey.


Finally, some leaders are skilled in the in and the out, naturally inspiring others to follow them and taking good care of themselves but not always sure where they are going. I call these leaders the pied pipers after the German folktale figure who played magical tunes on his pipe to lure the town’s children into a cave from which they never reappeared. Pied piper leaders lead their teams fantastically well and have no problem maintaining resilience. Still, they lack a clear connection with their purpose and risk getting very committed to a road that leads absolutely nowhere.

Maybe you recognize yourself in these simplifications of the zealot, the martyr and the pied piper. If so, how do you feed your inner wolf a different diet to boost the relevant aspects of your leadership?

For the zealots, we need to work on our skills to inspire others to follow. Typically, this involves slowing down to pace others by getting alongside them and listening to their needs. We find that investing more time in communicating our vision and inviting feedback pays dividends before setting off at breakneck speed to implement our latest heartfelt idea.

For the martyrs, we need an early warning system that alerts us when our resilience is running low and we risk burnout. We then need to act on those warning signs by prioritizing our needs, including taking sufficient rests and breaks to recharge our batteries before committing to new tasks and deadlines.

For the pied piper, we need to spend more time in private contemplation of our higher calling and generating clarity regarding the organization's vision. Once that "true north" has been specified, it can act as a clear compass to bring focus and direction to our leadership.

By recognizing our natural strengths and weaknesses as purpose-driven leaders, we optimize our daily diet to feed the inner wolf that enables us to be a force for good. If we neglect to maintain this healthy balance through lack of awareness or complacency, then we risk feeding the inner wolf that hooks our trauma and pulls us toward self-destructive temptations and habits. The zealot, the martyr and the pied piper each have their blind spots, but these can be revealed and transformed through working with the help of simple models like the up, the in and the out of purpose-driven leadership.


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