It has been 12 months since the Business Roundtable, the CEO association of the United States, declared and committed to leading organisations based on purpose. That is, seeking to make valuable contributions to people and society that go beyond economic value (1).
It has also been 12 months since I commenced a new role in a new industry based on my own purpose. Here is my story in the hope that it will inspire you to go deep and understand your own personal leadership purpose. But first, let me unpack the latest research that demonstrates how this can actually increase engagement and profitability for organisations.
During times of crisis, like we are experiencing today, having your own personal leadership purpose helps navigate uncertainties (2). According to research, individuals with a strong sense of purpose are more resilient and exhibit better recovery from negative events (3). Research actually conducted during the pandemic highlights this even further, showing that those people ‘living their purpose’ at work report levels of well-being five times higher than those who say they are not (4).
Indeed, when individual purpose aligns with workplace, people get more meaning from their roles, are more productive and as a result, more likely to outperform their peers. Hence, the positive correlation between the purposefulness of employees and their organisation’s EBITDA margin (5).
In a world where attracting the best talent is paramount, a company’s purpose is the new X-factor. Many people, including millennials, want to work for organisations whose purpose resonates with them intellectually and emotionally. They consider purpose TWICE as important as compensation or career development (6). Furthermore, more than 90% of purpose driven organisations deliver above average growth and profits, and private equity investors consider purpose as a key consideration when deciding to invest (6).
Clearly, Princeton from the Broadway musical, Avenue Q, was onto something when he sang the song “purpose”! That is why purpose is the crown of the framework that underpins the AFR BOSS Best Places to Work competition. If you are unsure how your organisation rates for Purpose, why not nominate? The science-based methodology will help assess where you are today and assist you in creating a roadmap to enhance your purpose. In doing so, attract the best talent that will help you create a greater impact.
How to discover your own personal leadership purpose? Here is my story.
After 4 years of part time study to complete my executive MBA, I knew that my perspective of the world had changed. I had learnt so much from the coursework, from my fellow students and about myself. I knew that it was time to leverage this new knowledge and outlook to take the next steps in my career. So, I decided to find a coach to help me in the process.
Lucky for me, my leadership lecturer and now close friend, Dr Christine Murphy, agreed to be my coach. Little did I know it would require deep introspection, and discussion of who I ‘could not help being’ with my family, my partner, my colleagues, my peers and my closest friends.
In order to discover that purpose, I had to mine my story to see the major life themes and uncover my lifelong passion and values. Then craft this into a leadership purpose that leaves you energised and excited. This came from the article ‘From Purpose to Impact’ by Nick Craig and Scott Snook (2), that discussed the notion that our own leadership purpose is a way to navigate the complex world we all live in.
It required 3 questions to ask of yourself:
- What did you especially love doing when you were a child, before the world told you what you should or shouldn’t like or do?;
- What are the two most challenging life experiences you have gone through and how have they shaped you?; and
- What do you enjoy doing in your life now that helps you sing your song?
The scary part, because it’s almost impossible to identify your leadership purpose alone, I had to discuss these questions with those people that know me best. So that is what I did. I was amazed at how much I learnt about people, even my sisters who I am very close with and have know for more than 40 years.
What I came to realise, with the help of these discussions and Christine, is that my leadership purpose was ‘to inspire new possibilities through deep engagement and make these come alive with my own brand of colour, fun and passion’. With my purpose in hand, I then sought out a place where I could live that purpose every day.
I did that by reaching out to people that had inspired me over the course of my career, as I was genuinely interested in their leadership journey. The list included CEOs of pharmaceutical companies, partners in consulting firms and entrepreneurs.
Their stories made me realise what resonated in my heart and help me understand the way forward. A few months later I started with Inventium. And what 12 months it has been, pandemic and all. It has been a learning curve extraordinaire and a place where I feel I can live my leadership purpose.
At first it was a deep dive into the science of innovation and ways of working. But I soon realised it was what I learnt about myself that was the most valuable. I have an ego! Yes! And it sure did get bruised almost every day! No longer a specialist in an industry I knew for 20 years, I was now using these skills and experiences in a new way with a diverse group of intelligent and dynamic individuals who still challenge me today (thank you!).
- Business Roundtable Statement August 2019: ‘Business Roundtable Redefines the Purpose of a Corporation to Promote ‘An Economy That Serves All Americans’
- Craig, N. and Snook, S., 2014. From purpose to impact. Harvard business review, 92(5), pp.104-111.
- Stacey M. Schaefer et al., “Purpose in life predicts better emotional recovery from negative stimuli,” PLoS One, Volume 8, Number 11, 2013, ncbi.nlm.gov.
- Emmett, J. Schrah, G. Schrimper, M. & Wood, A., 2020 “COVID-19 and the employee experience: How leaders can seize the moment,” McKinsey Insights June 2020.
- Dhingra, N. Emmett, J. Samo, A & Schaninger, B., 2020 “Igniting individua purpose in times of crisis,” McKinsey Quarterly August 2020
- Malnight, T.W., Buche, I. and Dhanaraj, C., 2019. Put purpose at the core of your strategy. Harvard Business Review, 97(5), pp.70-78.