In his book, A Culture of Purpose, Christoph Lueneburger states that “the most important challenge for a twenty-first century leader” is to build a ‘culture of purpose’. This goes for the organizational purpose, the leadership’s sense of purpose, and the purpose employees have in their jobs and their lives.

Individuals’ stories might be different, but for leaders and employees alike, there is often something missing: a feeling of contributing to something worthwhile; a sense of doing something for a reason greater than oneself. And by that, I don’t mean just for the organization, although there are great benefits there, too.

Leaders can take advantage of this imperative, for the greater benefit of all.


Targets versus purpose

The stress of needing to achieve faster, cheaper, better, bigger results is demanding, and takes its toll. This is applicable across every sector – public, private and social. It seems that every organization is charged with doing more, with less.

Some clients come to me for coaching because they are unhappy or dissatisfied in their work. Their concern is that they’re only doing their job for the money – they feel their work is without any ‘real’ purpose; it isn’t ‘meaningful’.

Other clients, particularly those who work in development (global health, education, poverty reduction) say how blessed they are to have meaningful work and connection to a purpose. But this has its own issues – and can engender fatigue, frustration and burnout in their heartfelt desire to achieve targets and advance their purpose.

I also coach executives who say that they’re so focused on getting results – increasing profits or advancing a social mission – that they forget to tell the story of the organization’s purpose. They neglect helping employees to feel connected to it, or don’t demonstrate that everyone has a part to play in fulfilling that purpose.

Lueneberger explains: “Cultures of purpose power winning organizations. And although leaders are right to track innovation, differentiation, and profitability, it is in cultures of purpose that any of these last.”

In a previous post, I talked about the power of planning for purpose and I can work with you individually to identify your purpose, and help you to enact it. That said, how much better would it be if the organization’s leadership built purpose into its working life, modelling values and purpose, to lead and inspire the entire workforce?


The importance of purpose for an organization

A Sussex University / CIPD study published in June 2017, Purposeful leadership, discovers that “if leaders have a moral purpose in their leadership  their employees are more highly engaged — productive, collaborative, less likely to quit, more satisfied, willing to go the extra mile, better performers and less cynical, and experience greater enjoyment in their work and organizations.” (as reported in Psychology Today).

It shows movement towards emotional intelligence and resilience – not just a focus on the bottom line at any cost. In this century, Lueneberger says, “Great leaders will be measured by their ability to marry purpose to profit.”

If leaders tap into the power and potential of ‘purpose’ to motivate and engage employees, they will see job satisfaction, staff retention rates and productivity rise.


How can managers / leaders do this?

Catherine Bailey, lead researcher of the Sussex/CIP study states, “Our study shows that the modern workplace is as much a battle for hearts and minds as it is one of rules and duties.”

So, what does this mean for leadership? As far as employees are concerned, she says, “they respond to leaders who care not just about themselves but wider society, who have strong morals and ethics and who behave with purpose.”

How can managers and leaders use ‘purpose’ to engage their employees?


  • Role-model

Role-modelling ethical and purposeful behavior is one thing leaders and managers can do. Walking the talk, not just producing paper vision statements, earns staff respect. Demonstrate purpose in action, and lead through example.


  • Communicate, with direction

Purpose needs to be clearly communicated, and leadership should be strong in directing its focus. In Harvard Business Review George Serafeim and Claudine Gartenberg describe ‘The Type of Purpose That Makes Companies More Profitable,’ pointing out that even if a company has high purpose, making it a collaborative, fun place to work isn’t enough. ‘Purpose-Camaraderie organizations’ don’t perform too well. There needs to also be clear direction from leadership: “we found that only the high Purpose-Clarity organizations exhibit superior accounting and stock market performance.”


  • Engage middle management

The golden thread of purpose needs to run through middle management, who are key to influencing staff. Serafeim and Gartenberg go on to say, “Ultimately, our study suggests that purpose does, in fact, matter. But it only matters if it is implemented in conjunction with clear, concise direction from top management and in such a way that the middle layer within the firm is fully bought in.”


  • Align purpose and culture

Organizational culture needs to foster and utilize purpose through the nurturing of strong, emotionally intelligent leadership; alignment to the core vision; clarity of communication and role-modelling; development of appropriate policies, and through training, coaching and development.

He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how.

Friedrich Nietzsche


Are you encouraging purpose in your organization?

If you would like to explore and build more purpose in your life or organization, or could benefit from coaching, please get in touch.

If you would like to, please download my coaching programme brochure – Women’s Leadership Coaching – For Women in Development – specifically designed for women working in global development.

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