Purpose-driven became an industry. When something becomes commonplace, it often loses its meaning. Purpose-driven is in this state.

The idea of a purpose-driven life, leadership, and culture is still valid, but we have been driven over with it. Purpose-driven has been hijacked by an industry, creating zombie-like groups blindly pursuing a purpose. Whose purpose has it become?

  • Do we own our purpose in our life?
  • Do we own our purpose in our leadership?
  • Do we own our purpose in our workplaces?

More important, some business leaders have hijacked purpose-driven and twisted it into their personal-driven messages. They hold others back from pursuing their purpose and using their talents. The negative impact is deeper as certain leaders are turning organization purpose into self-serving objectives and boundaries.

Money is required in life, social good, and business. Money is living, giving, and profit to survive and thrive. At what cost though? Did VW make the right trade-off? What about Kickstarter? VW turned purpose upside down and stomped on it. Kickstarter raised their standards. As individuals, do we stand on purpose, or do we lift it up?

Just yesterday, REI lifted up their purpose in one simple move — closing their stores on Black Friday and encouraging customers and employees to go outside (#OptOutside). What a purpose-activated move!

Purpose: Now and Later

A Deloitte survey on Millennials makes the case for a refreshed focus on purpose in business and leadership. The unfortunate situation and renewed desire are clear:purpose activated

  • 75 percent of Millennials believe businesses are focused on their own agendas rather than helping to improve society
  • Only 28 percent of Millennials feel their current organization is making full use of their skills
  • 6 in 10 Millennials state a “sense of purpose” is part of the reason they chose to work for their current employers

Barry Salzberg, CEO of Deloitte Global, said it well:

“Millennials want more from business than might have been the case 50, 20, or even 10 years ago. They are sending a very strong signal to the world’s leaders that when doing business, they should do so with purpose.”

We have a purpose gap. The challenge is to begin to shift from purpose-driven to purpose-activated, and we need to begin this cross-generational effort to take the leap forward.

Purpose-Activated: Freedom and Ability

The shift from a hollow purpose-driven approach to a purpose-activated one requires the right mix of freedom and ability. Freedom embraces responsibility as an interwoven partner. Ability embraces our talents along with a continuing need to learn and grow.

However, here is where we get caught.
shift from purpose-driven

Low Ability, Low Freedom

We are stuck. We are in an organizational straight-jacket. We can only do what we are told, or we are scolded or held back. We are not sure what skills we need to gain a nugget of freedom, so we lay low. This is never a good place to be.

Low Ability, High Freedom

When we are given expansive freedom and our skills are not ready for the responsibility, we feel lost. We try to survive and keep up, but we are not sure what we are supposed to do with the freedom given. Clarity clouds. We try to find our way.

High Ability, Low Freedom

We have the talents and skills to launch the initiatives, lead the projects, and do the work. However, the straight-jacket returns, and we are muzzled. We may be over-turned, re-directed, gone around, or otherwise put in a box. We get discouraged.

High Ability, High Freedom

We feel activated! All fine print is large print. No hidden agendas. No self-serving leaders. Clarity shines a light on our work horizon, and we have a lift in our step and a sparkle in our eye. Nothing is status quo. Many parts are moving, but we know how it can fit together. We learn. We grow. We are active and proactive.

The result of each quadrant begins to take shape. Regardless where we are, we always need to try.

Why Purpose Matters?

Purpose matters because it delivers clarity. Clarity is a necessity for this new activating formula. Clarity in the mission, direction, and values is critical. A clarity of our role in the objectives, initiatives, and projects is essential. Clarity needs to be a web we can see, feel, and move through its interactions and interdependencies.

Clarity centers purpose. Without clarity around purpose, motivations can be suspect or questioned. Ambiguity of purpose likely means a self-serving motivation has crept in. Just as employee engagement breaks down when this happens so does purpose-driven. Purpose-driven becomes self-driven objectives in which purpose is disguised and mangled.

Purpose moves us from employee engagement, which did not work, to employee activism. We need to raise our standards, and purpose is the uplift. This is more than a wording change; it is a mindset and action change.

Making the Activating Shift

Given where we are in the mix of freedom and ability, there are actions we can take to move in a more purpose-activated way. After all, we are leaders of our self. We can take certain actions, no matter who may be off-track or mis-leading the organization. Highlighted below are suggestions for each quadrant.

Low Ability, Low Freedom

shift to activated purposeIf culture and leadership are strong in positive ways, we may need to earn certain freedoms and advance our skills and talents. “Try” is more than a mantra; it is a requirement. The goal in this quadrant is to move up and over. If the walls do not disintegrate, then we may be in the wrong organization, or we may be the wrong person for the role defined.

Low Ability, High Freedom

When given the freedom to pursue, our skills and talents need to rise to the responsibilities given. If we cannot, we need to use the freedom space to learn as aggressively and completely as we can. Freedom and responsibility go together. We need to up our responsibility when the right freedoms are available for us.

High Ability, Low Freedom

We have the talent, but we are not given the space to use all that we have within us. We need to use our talents to change space. Moving to a different department may be an option. Undertaking initiatives outside of work may deliver greater fulfillment, although it does not solve the 8-hour work day problem. Most likely, we may need to leave and find a better business or organization.

High Ability, High Freedom

The place to be is here! Our organization and leaders provide the right platform on which we can be successful to advance the purpose of the organization. Our purpose is lit within our work. Our responsibility is to inspire others and activate them. Our responsibility is to raise our aspirations, so we can continue to grow in our purpose while growing the organizational purpose. Inspire and Aspire are partners in growth, and we need to engage the growth in others.

The Joy and Reality of Purpose-Activated Organizations and Leaders

Alignment is not the end goal, just a measure of where we stand in purpose. The reality check is this:

  • Not every individual is right for an organization
  • Not every organization is right for an individual

We cannot be too jittery in leaving a job or firing an individual. Patience leads to better discernment. More than this, the grass is not greener on the other side all of the time. Don’t get me wrong. If an organization is toxic, leave as soon as you can. If an individual is toxic, separate as soon as you can.

The distinguishing element is purpose.

  • Does your purpose align closing with the organization’s beliefs, principles, and purpose?
  • Does the organization purpose align closely to your beliefs, principles, and purpose?

purpose alignment

We need to determine where we are regarding purpose alignment and then take the appropriate actions to scale the purposeful line or move on.

The Purpose Bottom Line

Purpose-driven seems stuck, as does employee engagement. Purpose is the leverage to get unstuck. However, purpose is so much more, and it needs to be.

Purpose needs to be activating. We need to feel good about the work we are doing, which facilitates contagious collaboration. We need to know why our work is important, and how it fits into a larger, positive organizational purpose. Purpose-centered is better than purpose-driven. Purpose-activated trumps both. Purpose-activated encircles and enlivens individuals and organizations.

The purpose-activated formula includes three key elements:

1 – Freedom:

  • Freedom entails responsibility. The two are intertwined.
  • Independence is required to do the necessary work and have the space to pursue.
  • Interdependence is required to work together and have the space to collaborate.

2 – Ability:

  • We all have certain talents. If they remain dormant, we fail. We need to grow our talents.
  • We need to polish our skill continuously. We need to grow our skills.

3 – Clarity:

  • Purpose demands clarity.
  • Clarity of how our work empowers a larger cause and organizational purpose.
  • Clarity of how our organization is delivering profit and purpose.
  • Clarity of how we can work together for a common good.

What’s next?

For me, more thought to the concept of purpose-activated needs to be applied. Blogs are meant to think through ideas and gather opinions and other thoughts. Please join in with your thoughts and perspective.

What I know is we need to refresh leadership in tangible ways. Old ideas are not working, and we need to reinvigorate leadership to rally around the role of purpose, talents, profits, and results. Making a living is uninspiring. Activating a purpose is inspiring. The next generation aspires to lead, live, and work in purpose as often as they can in as many places as they can. This is our leadership mission:  Shift to an activating model for purpose.