Daniel Goleman, author of the bestseller “Emotional Intelligence,” 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.
A strong sense of purpose, most agree, matters. But putting purpose into action does not come so easily in the world of business. For instance, in a recent survey 79% of business leaders believe that purpose is central to an organization’s success and longevity, but only 34% agree that purpose guides their decision-making.
In short, while many leaders see value in being “purpose-driven,” far fewer manage to integrate purpose into their strategy, organizational culture, and approach to employee development. The survey found that less than one third of business leaders guide supervisors to have open discussions with employees about why their work matters.
Kevin Cashman, Korn Ferry’s global leader of CEO & Executive Development, reminds us that establishing a line of sight into organizational purpose is a leader’s job, not just once as part of a “visioning” exercise but continually, incorporating purpose into every moment and process of leadership. In his words, “To optimally engage business performance, personal, team and organizational purpose must be aligned.”
In my book Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence, I’ve written about the “triple focus” needed for outstanding leadership. The key takeaway: a skillful leader knows when to focus inward, when to attend to others around them, and when to keep their eyes on the horizon.
This same triple focus serves a guidepost for orienting to purpose.
Inner Focus: Uncover your own purpose. Self-awareness brings us more closely in touch with our own values. By observing our feelings, emotions, and reactions, we begin to clarify where in our own lives we find meaning. Once we are clear on our own purpose, we can begin to consider our role, our trajectory, and how we might align our purpose to that of our team and the broader organization.
Other Focus: Uncover purpose in others. This is about understanding what matters to others. When you pay close attention to those with whom you regularly interact you are better able to tune into their values. When you ask pointed questions of those around you, and listen to the answers—like, What matters most about what we do?—you can make choices for the benefit of the group. This other focus lets you better align the team’s purpose with the organization’s mission.
Outer Focus: Uncover the threads of purpose that unite us all. When we take a broad view of the organization, the community and the world, we begin to sense otherwise hidden relationships and interconnections. With this larger focus, we can become more aware of the ripple effect we each have upon one another and how each small effort is part of a bigger purpose and a greater whole.
This triple focus is a starting point for any leader who wants to establish a clear line of sight from the individual to the purpose of their organization.
What’s one company employing a triple focus to close the gap between values and action? Take PepsiCo.
With the goal of creating a healthier relationship between people and food, this multinational food, snack, and beverage corporation defined their 2025 agenda as Performance with Purpose. With a focus on sustainable farming, safe water access, nutrition, reducing sugar, providing clear labeling, and responsible marketing, since 2006 PepsiCo. has sought to ingrain sustainability into their daily business operations.
"Performance with Purpose is about the character of our company and managing PepsiCo with an eye toward not only short-term priorities, but also long-term goals, recognizing that our success—and the success of the communities we serve and the wider world—are inextricably bound together,” explains PepsiCo.’s former Chairman and CEO, Indra K. Nooyi—the woman responsible for putting this initiative into action.
This agenda has also inspired the launch of PepsiCorps, a global volunteer program created by the company’s associates. “I've never seen anything stick as fast as this did across the company,” said their chief personnel officer in an interview. “It's helped everyone remember that they serve a bigger mission and be able to think of the future in a positive way.”
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