From Values to Victory: How Purpose-Driven Leadership Inspires Teams and Drives Innovation

Megan Stacy Deane

Posted: April 2, 2024

Table of Contents

It’s no secret that workplace demographics are set to shift as Generation Z enters the scene and boomers head into retirement. Younger generations are typically highly conscientious about wellness, purpose and leading a balanced life, and their debut into the working world pre-empts an important change in leadership. 

Purpose-driven leadership is a new leadership model where employees find personal meaning in their work, creating a more deeply committed workforce that thrives on shared goals and aspirations. This leadership style resonates with individuals who seek meaning and impact in their work and aligns with the growing emphasis on socially responsible business practices. Let’s take a closer look. 

What is purpose-driven leadership?

As Harvard Business Review (HBR) explains, your leadership purpose is who you are and what makes you unique. Regardless of the leadership position you hold at a company, whether you’re the CEO of a multinational or head up a scrum team at a startup, your purpose is your brand. It’s what makes you tick and what drives you to achieve. 

In other words, it’s not what you do but how and why you do your job. It’s the passions and strengths you bring to your everyday work and how others recognise you as uniquely you. 

HBR research shows that fewer than 20% of leaders have a strong sense of their own individual purpose within an organisation, and even fewer can distil their purpose into a concrete statement or action. But how does this impact companies and work performance? 

In a South African survey conducted by Bateleur Vantage Point in 2023, only 53% of respondents were found to be engaged with their work (exhibiting positive, committed, focused, and motivated behaviour). Several factors influence employee engagement, with leadership and organisational culture among the most important. The results expose a vital need for South African businesses to adapt their leadership styles to foster more engagement, trust, and commitment within the workforce. And purpose-driven leadership does just that. 

Becoming a purpose-driven leader

To embrace the concept of purpose at work, you don’t need a jargon-filled catch-all, such as ‘Empower my team to achieve exceptional business results.’ You need a specific and personal purpose statement that resonates only with you. 

Think of search marketer Larry Kim’s purpose statement: ‘Be a unicorn in a sea of donkeys,’ or simply stating your purpose as ‘To positively impact the life of every person I encounter, or ‘Eliminate chaos’.

A personal purpose statement differs from that of a company. For example, Virgin’s purpose is ‘To change business for good’. On the contrary, Richard Branson’s purpose, as stated in his book The Virgin Way, is ‘To make people’s lives better.’

This personal statement of purpose has created a culture at Virgin where employees feel valued, empowered, and trusted to the extent that they are inspired to go out and make amazing things happen.

The payoff of having a sense of purpose at work is it gives us clear reasons for what we want to do. Purpose-driven leadership also represents steadiness amidst constant change, which drives commitment, inspiration, and trust for employees, stakeholders, and customers. 

The essential skills and qualities of purpose-driven leaders

The skills of today’s exceptional, purpose-driven leaders aren’t tied to their education or knowledge; they’re tied to what we call power skills. Otherwise known as soft skills, power skills enable you to build a culture of trust, develop empathy in decision-making and conflict resolution, and foster an inclusive work environment. The most important are:

Effective communication 

Enhanced communication skills, both internally and externally, are key. Purpose-driven leaders know how to articulate and align clear organisational purpose statements with strategic decisions and business goals. 

Emotional intelligence and empathy 

Emotional intelligence means impulse control, self-awareness, stress tolerance, empathy and adaptability. Empathetic leaders consider each individual’s feelings, concerns, or personal purpose when making decisions. 

Social responsibility and ethical decision-making 

Moral and ethical decision-making skills mean being fair, ignoring your biases, and knowing which boundaries you will never cross. Socially responsible and purpose-driven leaders are personally motivated to create a better world and use their businesses to achieve that goal.

Negotiation and collaboration 

Building strategic alliances depends on negotiating purpose-driven partnerships that, in turn, encourage collaborative innovation. Investors and customers may not always identify with your purpose, but it’s important to remain authentic about how you communicate your vision and focus on upholding your company’s purpose and mission at all times.

How to foster a purpose-driven culture within an organisation

A company’s culture provides the underlying assumptions, shared values, and norms that shape employee mindsets and behaviours. Purpose-driven leaders bridge the gap between the business and employees by creating space for aligning goals and values between individual employees and the overall organisation. 

Companies may seem committed to a purpose, but without a supportive culture aligned to that purpose, employees are unlikely to enact these shared values in their work. 

Here are some ways to create a purpose-driven culture in your business.

  1. Be clear about your purpose beyond financial success. Draw clear connections between purpose, values, and performance.
  2. Acknowledge the inevitabilities of short-term trade-offs in favour of long-term success, and be prepared to navigate the challenges inherent to purpose-driven undertakings.
  1. Model values-driven decision-making. This entails making decisions through the lens of your core values (ethical considerations, community engagement, social responsibility, long-term sustainability, etc.) that reflect the organisation’s purpose and the outcomes they will lead to or create. 
  2. Connect work to a greater objective. When you take the time to learn what truly matters to your employees, you help them understand the core business mission and find ways to connect to it personally. Employees need to perceive their daily roles as contributing to this larger purpose. Recognising and rewarding behaviours that align with a company’s purpose solidifies this culture.
  1. Be prepared to adapt. Creating a purpose-centric culture won’t always be without obstacles, and the business purpose may evolve over time. This requires leaders to be agile, reflect on setbacks, and recalibrate as needed (while staying true to the core mission). 

Stepping into purpose-driven leadership

Leaders who don’t have a strong sense of purpose limit their aspirations and often fail to achieve their most ambitious professional and personal goals. 
Our Strategic and Purpose-Driven Leadership online short course is designed by industry professionals who share the secrets of this modern, in-demand leadership style and can get you and your team leaders skilled up in just eight weeks.

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