The power of purpose as a leadership vehicle is the new hot idea in business. However it started a while back. I have been helping companies grow exponentially by using purpose as a strategic vehicle since 1994. Professor Richard Elsworth wrote about Leading With Purpose in 2002, and many books and articles have been written since. This month John Baldoni publishes his excellent Lead With Purpose. In Passion and Purpose: Stories from the Best and Brightest Young Business Leaders, John Colemena, Daniel Gulati and W.O Segovia’s study of young business leaders and MBA students found that “Today’s young leaders are growing up with the belief that business can provide them with a way of translating a meaningful, personal purpose into work that impacts the world in a positive way.” Peggy Noonan in a WSJ article quoted in Forbes writes about a piece in Walter Isaacson’s Jobs biography. Without referring specifically to the idea of purpose she writes:
The activities of these people (accountants and moneymen) further dispirit the creators, the product engineers and designers, and also crimp the firm’s ability to add value to its customers. But because the accountants appear to be adding to the firm’s short-term profitability, as a class they are also celebrated and well-rewarded, even as their activities systematically kill the firm’s future.
In Lead By Greatness (available on Amazon January 2012 in hard copy and Kindle or on this website now, for advance order), I quote Roger Martin, dean of the Rotman School of Management, University of Toronto, who proves the tragic flaw in the belief that the purpose of a corporation is to maximize shareholders’ wealth.
Business writers and thinkers are identifying purpose as a tool of inspiration for employees, the glue that binds a corporation and the foundation of culture building. But purpose is more than that. When an organization’s purpose is authentic to its corporate soul, when its purpose is discovered by its leaders rather than created by them, it becomes a powerful strategic tool that assures unrivaled differentiation and delivers premium returns.
In Lead By Greatness I define the purpose of business (generically) as:
Making a unique contribution to the well-being of people, the value of which yields an acceptable return on investment.
I also share our methodology (which now has a more than 20-year track record of success) for discovering corporate purpose and ensuring that it is authentic and congruent with the essence of what your company stands for, its identity, its corporate soul. I show how to use it strategically and I give examples of the stunning economic wealth that companies who follow this methodology have generated.
For purpose to be authentic, it needs to go beyond your company and your work. Purpose is its most powerful when a leader has first identified his or her own personal purpose, the reason for which they believe they were put in this world. Then you can explore how to use your company and your work as the vehicle through which to live your purpose and give it meaning. (The methodology for discovering personal purpose is also included in Lead By Greatness, in the Chapter: Its Not Who You Are, It’s Why you Are! ) Aligning the purpose of your own life with your company’s purpose and using it strategically unleashes the energy of your passion, focuses your talents and unlocks your creative genius more than any other exercise you could do.
Discover your own purpose….discover your organization’s soul and find its higher purpose. You owe it to the people you lead…you owe it to yourself.