In the past two decades, an increasing number of for-profit companies have been created on the principal of purposeful, movement-inspired social entrepreneurship. A recent Korn Ferry article points out that purpose-driven work “is on track to become a stronger organizational imperative.”

Propelling this is Millennials, the “purpose-driven generation.” They make up more than one-third of the U.S. workforce (about 56 million) and are estimated to become 75 percent of the global workforce by 2025.

As more organizations embrace a societal purpose, people at the top need to understand how to become effective purpose-driven leaders.

What Organizational Purpose Means

The results of the Deloitte Global Millennial Survey 2020, the largest ever undertaken of that segment of the workforce, show that Millennials (and younger Gen Z-ers entering the workforce) want to make a difference in the world in the work that they choose.

Even in the pandemic, the survey Executive Summary states, they have stayed focused on societal issues. “If anything, the pandemic has reinforced their desire to help drive positive change … and they continue to push for a world in which businesses and governments mirror that same commitment to society, putting people ahead of profit….”

I personally don’t think that you can put purpose ahead of profit, because you can’t run a business (or contribute to the purpose) without making a profit. Instead, look for the convergence of the two.

Where Organizational Purpose Fits in Your Business Statement

Organizations develop a lot of statements to define their values and goals: the who, what, when, where, and why that a company lives by. These are all a bit different.

Mission: What we are trying to accomplish

Vision: Where we want to go

Value Proposition: How we uniquely benefit our clients

Business Plans: How and when we expect to fulfill goals and objectives

A purpose statement can solidify the core of your company – “purpose-driven” becomes the theme of your story, a core value infusing your decisions and actions.

How to Become a Purpose-Driven Leader

To become a purpose-driven leader, begin with Why did you start your business? Many “whys” relate to a core belief that can inspire your organization as your company grows.

A purpose-driven leader’s job is to:

  • Align running the company with core values and beliefs
  • Engage and motivate employees
  • Create benefits for clients and stakeholders
  • Contribute to the greater societal good

Many purpose-driven leaders have, as the saying goes, done well by doing good.

When Toms Shoes founder, Blake Mycoskie, developed the idea for his company, he was driven by a singular purpose – to find a solution for the shoeless, blistered feet of Argentina’s children, a condition he saw on a trip and couldn’t get out of his head. What he built was a global, for-profit company worth nearly $400 million that has given away 70 million pairs of shoes, backed by a workforce of more than 500 employees who see workplace culture driven by the company’s purpose. Employees get to effect change locally and are invited on ”giving trips” where they travel to other countries and assist non-profit partners with projects.
(Case study compiled from and Wikipedia)

Mycoskie is one of many purpose-driven leaders who has connected business and purpose, and energized employees to support the company’s vision.     

Characteristics of Purpose-Driven Leaders

The personal characteristics of the best leaders are:

  • Self-awareness
  • Drive
  • Resilience
  • Ability to adjust to change
  • Confidence

If you’re skilled at managing both vision and purpose, you’ll make your employees want to get up every day and come to work. You:

  • Are optimistic about the future
  • Create mileposts that make the vision visible to people both inside and outside the organization
  • Help employees and teams understand how they fit into the vision and contribute to the purpose

Purpose in Action

As a leader, you want to be on the lookout for the convergence of purpose and profit. This means knowing your company’s purpose in the scheme of things so well, you know when to pivot – as CVS did seven years ago.

In 2014, when CVS Health announced it was going to stop selling tobacco products in its 7,000-plus drug stores, it made news headlines across the country. Why would a company willingly give up $2 billion annually in revenue? Spearheading that decision was CEO Larry J. Merlo who, along with other CVS stakeholders, decided to remove tobacco products because it didn’t fit with the company’s purpose. Selling products that carry a health warning just didn’t go with helping people reduce their risks of high blood pressure, cholesterol, and diabetes. At the heart of the company’s decision was the recognition that selling tobacco products to customers they’re encouraging to be healthier just didn’t add up. Merlo said of the decision, ”Sometimes, we all need to dust off our values and ask ourselves if we’re truly living in concert with them.” (Edited from

Merlo and CVS made a business decision backed by purpose-driven leadership.

How to Help Salespeople Fit in to the Purpose

Salespeople need to understand what their role is within the company and how what they do feeds the company’s purpose.

My company, Sales Growth Advisors, works with a lot of small- to medium-size businesses as well as start-ups that are often feeling their way forward. We advocate for transparency across each company to help their salespeople understand the organization’s mission, vision, purpose, and business plan. Otherwise, how are you engaging your sales force, motivating them, and keeping them moving in the right direction?

If you aren’t transparent then your employees are driving blind, which can only lead to trouble.

When leadership helps people understand how they fit into the vision for the future, and how they will grow and benefit along the way, you cement loyalty and commitment. You’ll build a stronger company with:

  • A strong competitive advantage
  • The ability to hire and retain the best people
  • See the best business outcomes

Final Thoughts

As a purpose-driven leader, be clear about your company’s purpose and why you are here. Help others understand their role. Recognize effort and reward accomplishment on the journey. And don’t forget to enjoy the strong, successful company that you build along the way!