Leading With Purpose: How, and Why its Difficult

by / ⠀Entrepreneurship / June 15, 2022
Purpose-driven companies need purpose-driven leadership.

Marketers tend to make a big deal out of terms like “purpose” and “authenticity.” Why? Because research findings, survey results, and numerous other studies indicate that these things matter to customers. Leading with purpose is something much more important. 

Brands that exist beyond mere profit — and can communicate that purpose clearly — tend to succeed. On the other hand, those that behave in a way that doesn’t match their message are penalized by consumers. They’re not who they say they are, and customers would rather not do business with them.

If you’re leading a values-focused company, one that demands its people uphold certain ideals, you’ll face plenty of tough decisions. If you stay true to the values that guide your company, you’ll likely be rewarded by consumers who share those values.

This is often easier said than done. Leaders at purpose-driven companies play by a different set of rules. In some ways, a strict adherence to certain values makes leading easier, as some decisions require less thought or may even be avoided altogether.

There will be times when sticking to your purpose isn’t always pleasant. Here are three strategies to help you successfully lead your team in the direction of your company’s values.

1. Reflect on how far the vision has brought you.

Your company’s values and mission define its culture. A strong culture tied to your organization’s values will make your work more rewarding. In fact, a strong culture results in more engaged employees. It’s imperative to reflect on your organization’s high points and tie those successes to your company’s values and vision.

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It can also help to reflect on the values that helped establish your company. Kelly Vlahakis-Hanks, president and CEO of Earth Friendly Products, which makes ECOS’ environmentally friendly cleaners, says her father founded the company in 1967. His purpose: making safer products for people, pets, and the earth. She explains, “Greece was my father’s homeland, and he was raised with a reverence for the importance of family, health, and balance with the natural world.” The company’s products continue to focus on those values and attract consumers who are also passionate about their health and the planet. This approach has resulted in quadrupled sales since the start of the decade.

2. Recognize when personal purpose and team purpose align.

Incorporate your organization’s values into the recruiting and onboarding process: in candidate interviews, offer letters, training materials, and the employee handbook. Reward and draw attention to employee actions that exemplify the company’s values and vision. Stuart Parker, CEO of USAA, carries around a personal challenge coin, similar to the ones military leaders use to recognize exemplary service. It has his personal mission engraved on one side and USAA’s guiding values on the other. He had coins made for all team members as a reminder that their personal values should underscore the company’s values, and vice versa.

Often, taking the time to clearly articulate personal values can be illuminating. If you find your team’s struggling to perform, give team members the opportunity to think about the values that guide them as individuals. Together, identify work that aligns with those personal values while adding value to the team. When personal values and team values align, great things happen.

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3. Don’t chase external validation.

Great leaders don’t seek external validation for their decisions. They identify distinct values and subsequently live and lead according to those values, resulting in validation from within. The desire for external validation is powerful and pervasive, however. Feeding that desire can lead to the abandonment of all values, which is both bad for business and bad for the individuals who succumb to it. The list of those who have let external validation lead them astray is long.

Consider GE’s Jeff Immelt, who took the reins in 2001 and shared a rosy performance picture, even as share values plummeted. John Stumpf was focused on maintaining a successful appearance after taking over as CEO of Wells Fargo in 2007, later saying he was oblivious to the 3.5 million fictitious customer accounts created during that time. If you’re focused on external validation, you, too, could miss what’s right under your nose.

Regardless of your company’s values, it’s your responsibility to ensure those values aren’t just words displayed in your office. Carrying that responsibility might get tough at times, but if you do it successfully, you’ll position your company to truly make its mark on the world.

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About The Author

Kimberly Zhang

Editor in Chief of Under30CEO. I have a passion for helping educate the next generation of leaders.


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