passion and purpose

A recent report by McKinsey and Co. found the pandemic has caused half of employees surveyed to consider leaving their current job. This research also found that 70 percent of workers said their purpose is defined by their work. The Big Resignation is a big pain point for many organizations. Attracting and retaining top people is a key factor in whether organizations will thrive — or even survive. Finding purpose and passion at work leads to much higher engagement. This attracts and retains top people.

The pandemic pause caused many people to rethink what work is giving them besides income. Most of us don’t just want a job or an existence. Many more people are searching beyond a job or career to find a calling. We want to make a difference. We want to know that our time on this earth counted for something. We don’t want to just exist or get by; we want to thrive. We want to be energized. We want passion, excitement, and a sense of deeper purpose.

As Adam Grant, organizational psychology author and University of Pennsylvania professor, said, “There’s a wealth of evidence that people want to do meaningful work: In national surveys over the past three decades, the vast majority of Americans have identified meaningful work as the single most important feature that they seek in a job. And numerous researchers have found that people are concerned not only about themselves but also about doing work that benefits others and contributes to society.”

These shifts have profound implications for leadership and culture. In this month’s Harvard Business Review article, “What’s the Purpose of your Purpose?”, the four authors write, “‘Purpose’ is used in three senses: competence (‘the function that our product serves,’): culture (‘the intent with which we run our business’), and cause (‘the social good to which we aspire’)…any of the three types can be effective when pursued effectively.”

The authors cite these examples of purpose statements; Tesla — “to accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable energy,” Beyond Meat — “a better way to feed the planet,” Disney — “create happiness through magical experiences,” and Nestle — “good food, good life.” Depending on how real or alive these passionate purposes are, they can rally and arouse people to work for, buy from, invest in, or partner with these companies.

BUT… the authors warn against trying to rally people around a cause if you don’t actually have one. And don’t delegate purpose to marketing. They also advise that “a strong culture is often all you need.” Of course, this depends on whether your culture is rooted in a deep and authentic purpose or sense of why you exist.

McGill University management professor and author, Henry Mintzberg said, “an organization without human commitment is like a person without a soul: Skeleton, flesh, and blood may be able to consume and to excrete, but there is no life force.”

Over the years, we’ve seen a few other powerful purpose statements providing a passionate life force:

  • A school bus company: “Carrying our nation’s future.”
  • A financial services company: “Helping our clients build their financial freedom and security.”
  • A municipal public works department: “Building and leaving a legacy for our children and grandchildren.”
  • A mining company: “Stewards of the earth’s resources for the benefit of its people.”
  • Pharmaceutical company: “Preserving and improving human life.”
  • Hotel company: “Making people away from home feel they are among friends.”
  • Discount retailer: “Making our customers’ lives better through lower prices, greater selection, and higher value.”
  • Software company: “Enabling people and businesses throughout the world to realize their full potential.”

People rally around passionate leaders with a compelling vision and purpose. We’re drawn, like insects to the back porch light, by those who are so passionate about their work that they have turned it into a cause.

Effective leaders rally people throughout their organizations or teams, customers, suppliers, strategic partners, shareholders, and anyone else that can help around a cause. They transform jobs into crusades, exciting adventures, or deeper missions.

If organizational leaders aren’t leading on purpose, finding a deep, genuine purpose is virtually impossible. A purposeless leader or leadership team without a life force might fool some of the people some of the time, but they’ll never fool all the people for long. We can’t impassion others about their work unless and until we’re impassioned about ours.

Creating leadership energy is an inside job. The life force that ignites or extinguishes leadership energy ripples from the leader. Most of us can’t fake what we don’t feel. And if we do, it sends everyone’s increasingly sensitive “Phony Meters” over the red line. It’s a non-renewable energy crisis.

Further Reading and Applications for Purposeful Living and Leading