How to Lead with Purpose

Best-selling author Daniel Goleman lays out three ways one of the best workplaces in the world helps its employees make meaning out of work.

Daniel Goleman, author of the best seller Emotional Intelligence, and co-developer of the Goleman EI online learning platform, is a regular contributor to Korn Ferry. His latest book, Altered Traits: Science Reveals How Meditation Changes Your Mind, Brain, and Body, is available now.

If you are a leader, one of your key responsibilities is to motivate people to fulfill the mission and goals of the organization.

Pretty straightforward, right?

But to do this, leaders have to tap into the motivational drivers of their team.

What makes people tick? What inspires them to take action? How do leaders help individuals sustain a sense of motivation over the long-term?

While putting food on the table is certainly a strong motivator, it’s something any good paying job will offer. For one well-paying organization to differentiate itself from another, leaders need to think more deeply about human motivation.

In 2019, I wrote a piece called Why Finding Purpose 'Feels' Right. Here, I talked about the brain’s seeking system, a series of neural pathways that encourage us to explore, learn, and find meaning. I argued that leaders and companies would do well to focus on purpose in order to satisfy people’s innate desire to explore, understand and make meaning.

While plenty of organizations have an inspiring purpose—often in the form of a statement that lives somewhere on their website—relatively few companies have ongoing programs to keep people connected to that purpose. One survey found that while 82% of U.S. workers affirmed the importance of purpose, only 42% said their company’s stated “purpose” had any real impact.

For an example of an organization focused on connecting people to the meaning of their work, we can look to Canva, the graphic design platform based out of Sydney, Australia.

“Understanding a company’s mission and vision is a huge driver of engagement,” Crystal Boysen, the people lead at the graphic design software firm Canva, told the Great Place to Work Institute, a consultancy specializing in the evaluation of workplace culture. “People want to do great work and understand how their work connects to the bigger vision and mission of a company.”

Prior to COVID-19, less than 5% of Canva’s global workforce was remote but now the vast majority are working from home. Crystal cited three things Canva is doing to keep employees connected to a sense of meaning, particular through COVID:

  • Canva facilitates discussions with every new hire on how they feel their role will contribute to the organization’s larger goals and vision.
  • Canva leaders ask its teams to review their strategies every season and think about how they connect to a larger, more future-focused vision.
  • Since COVID, Canva has replaced in-office “stand up” meetings with at-home “sit downs,” giving teams a chance, every week, to share how their goals and achievements fit into the larger mission and purpose of the organization.

These kinds of efforts offer people a chance to make meaning out of their work, exploring how and where it fits into the bigger picture. They not only foster purpose but also drive a successful workplace culture. The institute named Canva Best Workplace in the firm’s home country of Australia. Since then, Canva, has seen a 370% increase in job applicants.

How you motivate your people says a lot about the kind of culture you create. This, in turn, determines the quantity and caliber of people who will want to dedicate their time and talent to your mission. 

Daniel Goleman, author of the best seller Emotional Intelligence, and co-developer of the Goleman EI online learning platform, is a regular contributor to Korn Ferry. His latest book, Altered Traits: Science Reveals How Meditation Changes Your Mind, Brain, and Body, is available now

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