Leading with purpose has always been important. But recent events have emphasized just how important it is—the decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, voter rights in peril, wildfires and storms resulting from slow action on climate change, the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and relentless inflation and economic turmoil. All of this takes a serious toll on people, and the lines between personal and professional issues are rapidly blurring.
The need to have an organizational purpose has also been established. This is evidenced by the sheer number of data linking purpose to profit. In 2020, we published a piece speaking to the power of purpose and cited supporting evidence.
And yet, there hasn’t been a lot of education or training around how to connect to your purpose or how important it is to embody it.
Harvard Business Review (HBR) recently published an article titled, “What Is the Purpose of Your Purpose?” that outlines both the need and the challenges for organizations to clearly define your purpose. It’s a thoughtful breakdown of the structure of purpose and how to go through the process of aligning to yours, leveraging what they refer to as the Three Senses of Purpose.
This personalizes purpose by asking you to consider your audience and the impact you hope to have. Going through the process of understanding which sense you’re working to connect with provides the opportunity to be intentional—not only with the outcome that purpose may bring forth, but also with how to hold yourself accountable to the behaviors that support it.
The HBR article also notes that “Many of the challenges that companies encounter with purpose stem from a perceived lack of alignment between how they behave and what they say they stand for. It is tempting to claim being ‘purpose driven’ because of the appeal to employees and consumers—but that works only if you demonstrate authenticity and coherence.”
We couldn’t agree more. Companies can’t just pay lip service to a sense of purpose and consider the task complete. They have to exemplify it in their behavior, from the top of the organization right down to the front lines. It has to be authentic and integrated into the culture. Companies have to walk the walk, not just talk the talk—something that Rob Roy found evidence for in our post from last year, When It Comes to Purpose, Walk the Walk. Because if we don’t live our purpose, customers, employees and other stakeholders will see right through it. And if too many companies go through the motions of “blah blah purpose”, then this powerful force becomes a middling buzzword. And that would be awful.
Authenticity requires doing the due diligence up front. First by getting curious to connect to your purpose and then by being committed to practicing it. How are your values connected to your purpose? Do they demand observable behaviors? How does your purpose inform what you say yes to? What challenging conversations do you choose to have that support walking your talk? If we choose to orient to our purpose like our North Star, we can bring purpose-driven leadership into action. At a time when it can serve our democracy.
So the questions we hope you start asking of yourself and your peers are…
How can I live my purpose regardless of whether I’m at work or at home?
What could purpose-driven operations and values do for my company?
How could purpose transform my and others’ success?
What am I missing out on if I don’t walk the walk?
Guryan Tighe works with Rob Roy as our resident Fear Technician. She's also an accomplished leadership coach, author, and Founder of her own consultancy, Fourage.