The Purpose Advantage: Unleashing Purpose’s Power for Effective Leadership

Written by

Heather Askew | Andy Redman Managing Director | Cally Bybee Group Creative Director | Jon Bailey Associate Strategy Director | Tym Chajdas BCG BrightHouse Alumnus |

Oct 02, 2023 · 8-minute read

It’s no secret that fully leveraged purpose has tremendous impact.

Yet, a recent BrightHouse purpose survey of more than 2500 participants found that leaders are not as engaged with purpose as their employees and are therefore missing powerful opportunities

So, why the disconnect?
It seems that leaders are aware of the power of purpose but just don’t leverage it to its full potential. Luckily, this can be remedied with three simple steps we have identified to help leaders more deeply engage with purpose and unleash its power.

First, what exactly is purpose?

The definition can be found in the teachings of Aristotle who is quoted as saying, “Where your talents and the world’s needs cross, therein lies your vocation.” Your vocation is your Purpose, your reason for being beyond the bottom line– your “why.” It’s true for both organizations and for people. Executive leaders are faced continually with immediate pressures, so it is easy to relegate Purpose as something to focus on “down the line” rather than recognize it as vital for company health. But the value of Purpose as a consistent and stable North Star, a lens for decision-making, and a rallying cry connecting employees to shared meaning cannot be saved for “someday.” The data is clear that Purpose drives performance: high Purpose companies show 35% greater annualized TSR and fulfilled employees are 3X more likely to stick around longer.  

01 Excavate your own personal purpose

Corporate purpose must assess the reason for being of the collective… to adequately understand the role the organization plays; whereas a personal purpose is just that – personal, focusing on a single individual’s strengths, drive, and desires.

Ashley Grice
BrightHouse CEO and Managing Director

Personal Purpose is different than  organizational Purpose, but for executive leaders, developing a Personal Purpose can help unlock one’s own potential as well as that of the organization. The better you know yourself, the better you will understand how you can help others in your organization and beyond.

Excavating a powerful Personal Purpose requires open and honest self-reflection and, if possible, engagement with family friends and colleagues. We like to say, “the fruits are in the roots” –– so by bringing in other perspectives from various stages in your life,  you’ll be able to better understand your strengths.

The framework below and this TedTalk will walk you through the process of articulating your Personal Purpose. Give it time and thought and you’ll be rewarded with greater meaning. As an added bonus, knowing and living your own Personal Purpose has also been shown to increase resiliency, improve sleep and even decrease cardiac disease. It’s a bit dark, but true, Purpose may help you live longer.  

02 Connect the dots with your organization’s purpose or values

With your newly excavated Personal Purpose in hand, evaluate how it drives or connects with the organization’s Purpose or Values. Is there a common core belief? Can you live your Purpose daily in your work? For example, if joy is a tenet of your Purpose, are there opportunities to cultivate joy? If you find your Purpose is in sync with the organization’s, there are obvious benefits concerning overall engagement– when you lead with Purpose, you radiate an energy and passion for the work. Passion is infectious. It inspires and motivates others. And it will attract talent to your teams and inspire achievement.  

But what if you don’t see alignment between your personal purpose and that of the company? There is still a significant opportunity to drive impact. If you can’t find common ground with organizational purpose, you can look back and reflect on the organization’s strengths and values and look to find connection there. What do those strengths and values mean to you? How do you live them every day? Are they meaningful to you?

For example, Richard Branson’s, founder of the Virgin Group, personal purpose of “having fun in my journey through life and learning from my mistakes” is better aligned to the organization’s values than its corporate purpose of “changing business for good.” The values of heartfelt service, insatiable curiosity, red hot relevance, straight up, delightfully surprising, and smart disruption reflect Branson’s playful and adventurous approach to life. By fostering a culture based on these values, the Virgin Group embraces innovation, unconventional thinking, and a relentless pursuit of improvement, mirroring Branson’s commitment to learning from mistakes and having fun along the way.

When Satya Nadella took over as CEO of Microsoft in 2014, he initiated a shift in the culture of the company to align with his own deep belief (ie. Purpose) in the idea of a growth mindset. Through an experience with a child’s illness, he understood the power of empathy and learning and knew that the company needed to connect with these tenets to support its core of innovation and creativity. Nadella brought in a psychologist who specialized in mindfulness training to help his senior leadership team improve self-awareness, identify their innermost passions, and connect them to the company’s new mission–empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more.  By putting empathy at the center of his leadership, he set a clear example of how the company could better understand and deliver on customers’ needs.  

03 Communicate, live, and commit to purpose

Purpose without action is just parchment. For Purpose to be effective, leaders must engage, embody, and embed Purpose across the organization, making it habitual.  

Communicate Purpose
Start by spreading the news. Show your employees that Purpose matters to you and that you are listening to their ideas to use Purpose. With our clients, we encourage leaders to share personal stories how they relate to the company’s Purpose or Values. Stories create meaning and connection and are a valuable tool in communicating Purpose. In 2017, we worked with the National Bank of Australia (NAB) to develop their Purpose as part of a broader transformation. During a launch event, the CEO and leadership team told a host of personal stories, sharing a vulnerability that created an emotional tie to Purpose. Following launch, the team went on a 60-stop roadshow, focusing on bringing Purpose to life across the entire organization. Every bank leader’s appearance at every branch demonstrated how NAB’s purpose was personally important to each of them. 

Live Purpose
Next, walk the talk. We have found that establishing a clear set of leadership behaviors enables all employees to achieve a shared vision. Take the opportunity to model Purpose for everyone to see, both internally and externally. We helped our client The North Face rediscover its soul and reinvigorate its connection to employees and consumers by articulating Purpose and Values and then identifying behaviors to inform their daily actions. During the pandemic, The North Face used its Purpose–Dare to Lead the World Forward Through Explorationand associated behaviors to guide its response. The company temporarily closed its doors, donated 60,000 gloves to healthcare professionals and first responders, and opened their video archive so everyone could “explore outside curiosity while staying in.”  

Commit to Purpose
Finally, see Purpose as enduring rather than a one-time thing. It’s a timeless North Star and requires deep commitment across culture, strategy and brand. From the C-suite to the shop floor, Purpose should be a part of everyday decisions and a guide for action. For example, our client, Delta Airlines’, used their Purpose– Lift the World– to fuel a variety of initiatives that were key to their turnaround story. They used Purpose to improve customer experience by enabling gate agents to waive flight-change fees and help individuals find more direct flight options, reintroduced the Red Coats to provide travel assistance, and encouraged flight attendants to create meaningful connections with customers to enhance the journey. Today, nearly 20 years later, Purpose still shines through in marketing, customer experience, and employee engagement initiatives.  

The value of purpose for leaders

Leaders can unlock their organization’s potential by following our three steps:

With the world in a state of constant change, one thing we can count on to remain timeless is the need to connect with what we do, why we do it and whom we do it for. While our data shows that leaders are not as connected to organizational Purpose as their employees, we also have seen time and again the importance of making that connection for everyone within an organization. By taking the time to excavate Personal Purpose, to connect the dots with organizational Purpose and then committing to live Purpose, leaders can begin to unlock the potential before them. For leaders, finding your Personal Purpose and linking it to your organization’s Purpose will calibrate your own work-life and drive organizational success across your company. 

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