What is purpose-driven leadership?

Heather Nolan
March 5, 2021
What is purpose-driven leadership?

Over the last few years, a new trend has emerged in the business community: a move towards more impactful leadership. It used to be that business leaders were relied on simply for the business' bottom line. Leaders were only considered good if the business they ran was making a profit. If it wasn't, then they weren't good leaders. However, all that is changing. 

Today, a good leader does more than lead their company to a profitable quarter. They are required to be exemplary and nothing short of the personification of a company's value system, morals and purpose. It is this last point, the purpose that truly makes or breaks your organization.

What is purpose-driven leadership?

Purpose-driven leadership is when a leader prioritizes their purpose and values over anything else when making decisions on behalf of the business. 

Purpose driven leaders, be they CEOs or mid-level managers, are responsible for leading their organizations through decisions and innovations supportive of their core purposes, values and strengths. If you know your purpose as a leader and what you bring to the table, that becomes a guiding compass for your organization. 

Sharing your purpose with your team and the values that you uphold in pursuit of your purpose will materialize the organization's values in your employees. This would positively impact the organization's culture in the long term leading to more ethical and meaningful business and increased engagement from your employees. 

That being said, very few leaders today know what their purpose is in the organization. According to the Harvard Business Review, it’s only 20 percent.

Why don’t they know?

Many professionals don’t possess enough self-awareness, that is, the ability for an individual to know what their inner world looks like. What are their drivers, and how do they respond to internal and external stimuli? Knowing this about yourself as a leader makes it much easier for others to follow you and to do what you ask of them, no matter how taxing it may be. 

Self-awareness is the difference between a reactive and a proactive leader. It is the difference between a leader who knows why they are there and what is required of them and one who thinks all they are there for is to marshal everyone into the black. 

For you to be a purpose-driven leader, you need to have some level of self-awareness. It is only through self-awareness that you may know your values and how they align with the company's values. Once you know your values and purpose, it is easy to communicate them with the rest of your team and lead by them. Not only will you make your team better employees, but you will make them better human beings too. 

What is a good example of purpose-driven leadership?

In 2014, CVS announced that they would stop selling cigarettes and other tobacco products across America as CVS CEO, Larry J. Merlo, did not believe that selling tobacco products aligned with the company's identity and purpose as a health partner to their clients. At the time, CVS was making over two billion dollars in annual revenue from tobacco sales across its seven thousand stores. 

While that decision was dismissed by many at the time, today, it is thought of as a significant turning point in CVS's journey towards understanding its purpose. Because how can a company claiming to be all about its clients' health sell them cigarettes? 

Today CVS enjoys a much better relationship with its clients, built on trust and a shared understanding of the business' values and purpose in its clients' lives. This has resulted in high customer loyalty and employee engagement for the company. 

As leaders, it is important to keep your core purpose close and only act in ways that will benefit and highlight your organization’s values. Learn from organizations like CVS and adopt your own purpose-driven strategies to lead your organizations into success.

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Heather Nolan

Heather Nolan is a marketing specialist at Sidecar. A former journalist and social media manager, Heather lives in New Orleans with her husband, son, and grumpy rescue dog.

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