The Purpose-Driven Boss

Being a good leader means showing the team why their work matters, says best-selling Daniel Goleman.

Daniel Goleman, author of the best seller Emotional Intelligence, and host of the podcast First Person Plural: Emotional Intelligence and Beyond, 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. 

You’ve heard the saying: “People leave bosses, not companies.” There’s truth to it: Gallup has surveyed over 25 million employees over the past two decades and found poor management is a key factor in employee turnover.

Turns out this has quite a lot to do with purpose.

I recently shared a study from the Harvard Business Review reporting that more than 90% of employees would be willing to trade a percentage of their lifetime earnings for greater meaning at work. When asked for specifics, 2,000+ respondents—workers across all ages and salary groups—said that they would forego an average of 23% of their future lifetime earnings in order to secure a meaningful job until they retire.

This data can be read as informing what it means it means to be an effective leader., Being a “good boss” means showing your team why their work actually matters, especially these days.

Here’s why:

Connection in the workplace isn’t what it used to be.

Ten years ago, employees who reported having a “best friend” at work were 27 percent more likely to say that the mission of their company made them feel their job is important. In this current climate of remote work, leaders have had to make up for the lack of connection, by being more explicit with people about how their work fits into a larger, inspirational vision.

Anxiety and depression are on the rise.

Turns out, purpose plays a vital role in wellbeing. The stressors of the past year have taken a toll. Leaders are being forced to think more critically about how to best support the mental and emotional health of their workforce. This includes looking at how to support them in doing work that is fulfilling.

Millions of people have hit an existential crisis.

The pandemic, coupled with racial tension, political upheaval, and a growing awareness of climate change, has brought us face to face with our own mortality. Why do I do what I do? Does my workplace value me? Do I value my work? These questions are more and more common. Pair this with a freeze on promotions and many people are beginning to ponder: ‘If I’m not working my way up the ladder, why am I here?’


Korn Ferry Institute describes leaders as having two core roles these days. One: they are culture champions, responsible for role modeling the mindsets, beliefs, and desired behaviors of the organization. Two: they are culture architects, responsible for making sure the structures that support those behaviors are firmly in place.

“Culture is a celebration of what we hold as important—what we believe and hold sacred,” says Khoi Tu, a culture expert in Korn Ferry’s Consulting business, “And it’s up to the leader to take it from invisible to visible.”

If culture and purpose are two connected circles, good leadership lives in the overlap. To be a “good boss,” leaders not only have to uphold the culture of the organization, modeling the values through their behavior, but they must also help employees understand why their day-to-day tasks matter and how to tap into something more fulfilling than a paycheck.


Click here to learn more about Daniel Goleman's Building Blocks of Emotional Intelligence.