How to lead with purpose

Motivating employees to achieve optimal business performance

“It all starts with a commitment to purpose, worthwhile work and making a difference,” wrote Quint Suder in his book, “Hardwiring Excellence.” This may seem obvious, but do the leaders on your team fully understand and embrace these key ideas in their day-to-day work? Are they so focused on short-term priorities that they don’t have time to inspire and motivate their employees to achieve a high level of performance?

Multiple studies have shown that the number one reason people quit a job is dissatisfaction with their boss. Who can afford to lose good staff in these times of labor shortages? Too often, unfortunately, managers get caught up in personal needs for control, recognition, perfection, popularity or self-gratification. In the process, they lose sight of what they need to do to lead with purpose, vision and teamwork. An attendee at one of my leadership trainings gave me a t-shirt with the slogan, “Your ego is not your amigo,” and that pretty much sums up this common leadership breakdown.

In workshops, I show a cartoon of a man asking, “Who wants change?” with the assembled crowd enthusiastically raising their hands. But when he asks the same group, “Who wants to change?” they all look away. It may be human nature to want others to change to meet our needs, but we need to change ourselves first.

After all, your business needs to adapt to constant change, but how can you be successful if your managers are not doing the same? As Albert Einstein observed, “Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving.”

Becoming a better leader is an ongoing process requiring continuous self-improvement through experience, reflection, self-study, training, networking/outreach and feedback. For those who make the commitment, the payoff is substantial. As Walter Bennis observes, “The process of becoming a great leader is the same as that of becoming a great person.”

Businesses need to create a climate for ongoing leadership development to ensure that their leaders are constantly improving and embracing best practices. For example, it is important to teach managers that they need to be positively engaged in the work of their subordinates.

One reader of this column shared his frustration that the boss asked him to make presentations but never came to observe.

“He didn’t seem to see the value in attending things for the purpose of supporting the people that are working for him,” the reader said. Showing up and being accessible is a leadership best practice that, unfortunately, can be easy to set aside when your inbox is overflowing.

Leading with purpose and vision includes communicating “the why” of what we ask our staff to do. Managers who explain the why and connect this to business purpose and work expectations will be more successful in motivating staff and increasing performance.

Leadership is actions and behaviors that influence the actions and behaviors of others. This requires a high level of self-awareness.

Do the managers in your business act in ways that motivate and inspire their team, or are their actions neutral or even demotivating? Are they stuck on their own needs rather than taking the time to really understand their impact on others?

Of course, making money is an important goal for any business, but communicating a greater purpose is also highly motivating for staff, and even small acts of meaning can make a difference. We all want to feel we are part of something important and bigger than ourselves. Leaders who create a purposeful workplace help employees to find nobility in work and engage them in ways to achieve long-term business success.

For further thought: How are your managers doing when it comes to motivating their staff? How many staff have left due to frustration with their bosses? What kind of support and training would ensure that your managers inspire and motivate their employees to achieve a higher level of performance?

We each have an extraordinary opportunity to make a positive difference in peoples’ lives (including our own). Don’t underestimate your impact! 

Douglass P. Teschner, founder of Growing Leadership LLC, Pike, can be reached at

Categories: Business Advice