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3 dimensions of purpose

5 min read


Being a purpose-driven organization requires purpose-driven leadership. It’s your responsibility as a leader to be certain that those you lead are equipped and empowered to serve. Your team must know why the firm operates as it does, and demonstrate in practice the cause it represents.

Think about another organization you consider to be purpose-driven. Now, think about the character of that group’s leader, and how his or her personal attributes are evidenced throughout the values and culture of the organization. As a purpose-driven leader, it’s your role to embody—and communicate—the dimensions of purpose that are the foundation of your organization. These dimensions are, as William Pollard states, “the soul of the firm.”

Purpose is what motivates us and gives us meaning. Therefore, a cause, or purpose, need not be limited to the social sector. Consider Tom’s Shoes, a company that intentionally does business while doing good—balancing profit and purpose.

Pollard, in his book “The Soul of the Firm,” observes:

“People want to work for a cause, not just for a living. When there is alignment between the cause of the firm and the cause of its people, move over—because there will be extraordinary performance.”

Significance doesn’t have to be exclusive of profits. We’re naturally drawn to purpose-driven causes and organizations when we sense a connection between the values of the organization’s culture and our own morals. This connection takes place in the heart and mind, in both emotional and rational ways. Purpose lifts us at the end of the day, beyond the tasks we have accomplished and the goals we have achieved, to the realization we have not just added value — we have achieved significance in pursuit of something greater.

Your team will lead your clients best when they understand your purpose for serving, and when they understand your client’s purpose for doing business or striving for social change. Leading means we take the initiative and, in a properly structured business relationship, think on behalf of our clients, not just simply execute.

When was the last time your team asked — especially for a small, short-term initiative — “What are the goals for this initiative in light of business objectives and purpose?” Your team will manage your client’s (and their own) expectations most appropriately when they understand (and can articulate) how the objectives and goals for a given task or project fit within the framework of purpose and business objectives. Purpose will inform strategy, and strategy will be supported by intentional tactics.

Simply put, purpose reminds us that we must begin with the end in mind.

Here’s a test for purpose: Ask a colleague what they “do.” Most likely, they will respond with a short description of their role, and of the company or organization for which they work. Then ask them “why” they work. It’s in this answer that you will find out their purpose, and whether or not they find meaning in the cause or business for which they work. By asking these questions of your team, you will quickly learn how well you have communicated your purpose, and if there is alignment between their personal purposes and that of the company.

It’s common for purpose to be clear in the leader’s mind, but not (yet) be articulated and communicated to the team. When purpose is shared, it’s practiced. Only you can communicate your purpose for being in business to your team and those you serve. It’s up to you to demonstrate that purpose through your organization’s culture — your character values in action.

Consider how you can empower your team, nurture the purpose connection, and improve your communications through these three dimensions of purpose:

Purpose declares intent. Clearly stating your purpose declares. “This is why we do what we do.” When team members understand how their values align with yours and with the organization for which they work, they are powerfully motivated to serve sacrificially. When clients understand your purpose and you understand theirs, it will be a clear indication that there is a good fit in the relationships, and nurture fierce, sustainable devotion to your cause.

Purpose is strategic. Purpose helps you decide between the best choices, not just good and better choices. When you clearly articulate your purpose to internal and external audiences, it keeps you focused on which clients to serve and which activities to pursue. It empowers your team to remind you to stay focused as you lead your organization.

Purpose provides perspective. Your organization’s mission is a direct connection between purpose and vision. At the end of every day, no matter how good or bad it was, perspective will remind you why you work for something more significant than yourself, and why what you do matters.

Purpose, character and culture are the core of any organization. Begin with purpose, and you and your team will find meaning and significance while you pursue profit and create impact.

Brian Sooy is the founder and design director of Aespire, a design and marketing agency that helps nonprofits and other mission-driven organizations communicate with clarity. His upcoming book, “Raise Your Voice: A Cause Manifesto” (release date: June 9) is a nonprofit marketing and communications tool that explores mission-driven design, and touch points that are meaningful to an organization’s audience.