You don’t lead by hitting people over the head-that assault, not leadership”- Dwight D. Eisenhower

Some corporations feel that they have no choice but to get cut-throat in their drive towards financial success. Stakes are high, and competition is rife as companies compete for market share. The pressure on leaders to meet targets and feed the bottom line can be overwhelming.

In these corporations, success is measured by money, and rewards are linked to outputs. Yet, employees are running on fumes. Harsher measures to force productivity take matters from bad to worse. Traditional incentives might work for a while, but only superficially, and only for some.

The missing piece of the puzzle is the bit that matters most: purpose. And purpose is not about economic exchanges, say Business Professors Robert Quinn and Anjan Thakor.

Purpose reflects aspiration. It motivates participants to make a difference. It gives them a sense of meaning and draws their support.

Leaders’ role in cultivating purpose within their teams is vital. Why, then, do so many frontrunners have trouble lighting up their employees?

The simple answer is that, to truly cultivate purpose, leaders need to inspire.

Show them how their day-to-day makes a difference to others.

Inspiring your team takes more than motivational talks, lofty speeches or mission statements to foster a purpose-driven culture. Even worse, overblown or insincere methods can backfire, triggering cynical reactions.

Purpose is about helping employees to appreciate how their work has a positive impact on others and facilitating a narrative about why they love what they do. Purpose needs to be personal and elicit emotion, says Dan Cable, a professor of Organisational Behaviour at London Business School.

No matter your line of work, if people see the link between their inputs and their team’s progress – or understand how their craft positively impacts the consumer – they will feel a sense of purpose.

Cable says that “purpose needs to be felt. You can’t just talk about purpose.”

But, first things first. If a leader’s attempts at creating purpose for the team do not align with his other leadership behaviours, employees will view his tactics as manipulative rather than inspirational. Before a leader can inspire anybody, he first needs to find his own purpose.

First, define your leadership purpose.

Research team Nick Craig and Scott Snook have found that fewer than 20% of leaders have a strong sense of individual purpose. Even fewer can distil their purpose into a concrete statement.

They may be able to articulate their establishment’s mission, vision and values, but, when asked to describe their own purpose, they fall back on generic and vague replies.

Before leaders can encourage their team members to each pinpoint their purpose, frontrunners first need to define their own leadership purpose.

Your leadership purpose springs from your identity, the essence of who you are. Although you may express your purpose in different ways in different contexts, it’s what everyone close to you recognises as uniquely you and, as Craig and Snook put it, “would miss most if you were gone.”

Leadership purpose should be specific and personal, resonating with you, and you alone.

From the perspective of the C-Suite, the executive’s most important role is to be a steward of the organisation’s purpose.

Companies that thrive, however, help leaders bring organisational purpose in line with their personal purpose.

Nicholas Pearce, clinical associate professor at Kellogg School of Management, says that leaders who align their daily jobs with their personal beliefs will be happier and more productive. What’s more, members of their teams will feed on their positivity.

When the leader’s purpose aligns with the organisational purpose, management should empower leaders to do the same for each of their team members.

The Cascade Model of Purpose

EY’s People Advisory Series says that a cascading effect within the team will be the result. If management supports the leader’s purpose, he will perform beyond what is expected and model behaviour of excellence. The leader’s conduct is not only inspirational but also reciprocal, as he supports each member to find their unique purpose within the bigger sphere of the organisational purpose.

To strengthen this Cascade Model of Purpose, Marcel Schwantes, founder of Leadership From The Core, prescribe critical strategies to help managers create the right atmosphere for motivating others.

He implores leaders to spend more one-on-time with their team members, provide the resources they need to do their work exceptionally well and praise and compliment them often.

He also recommends helping them to develop new skills, actively involving them and overtly believing in them.

These strategies speak to the most fundamental driver behind human behaviour: positive emotion.

The emotional appeal of purpose

As each participant personally connects to the business aspiration, they buy into the company’s reason for being. They feel valued, esteemed and respected. And feelings are at the root of human motivation, says Dr Dan Goleman, a brain and behavioural psychologist.

The Cascade Model of Purpose speaks to three kinds of motivations to triggering the brain’s reward centres.

  • The need for socially beneficially power, where people take pleasure in influencing others for the better or the common good.
  • The need to affiliate. When a team is working towards a common goal, members are motivated by affiliation and find energy in the positive feelings of reaching that goal.
  • The need for achievement. Team members who feel a personal buy-in to a cause have a drive to achieve and to improve. They crave feedback and want to accomplish the task at hand, whether it means making their sales target or raising millions for a charity.

Indeed, the Global Leadership Forecast 2018 found that getting the Cascade Model of Purpose right builds organisational resilience and, crucially, improves long-term financial performance.


Dan Cable, 2019. Helping Your Team Feel the Purpose in Their Work. Retrieved from

Dan Goleman, 2011. Motivation: What Moves Us? Retrieved from

DDI, The Conference Board & EY, 2018. Global Leadership Forecast, 2018. Retrieved from

EY Leadership Series, 2018. Purpose-driven leadership. Retrieved from$File/ey-purpose-driven-leadership.pdf

Marcel Schwantes, 2017. 8 Things the Smartest Leaders Do to Motivate Their Employees. Retrieved from

Nick Craig & Scott A. Snook, 2014. From Purpose to Impact. Retrieved from

Nicholas Pearce, 2019. Why People — and Companies — Need Purpose. Retrieved from

Robert E. Quinn & Anjan V. Thakor, 2018. Creating a Purpose-Driven Organisation. Retrieved from

Sally Blount & Paul Leinwand, 2019. Why Are We Here? Retrieved from

Enjoyed our thinking?
Get in touch to understand how we can support you.