Motivating by Purpose

One of the most powerful tools a leader has at their disposal is purpose. When people know why they are doing things they do them much better.


There’s a really interesting and really exciting batch of research showing that one of the most powerful tools that leaders have at their disposal is a tool they keep leaving in the tool box. And that tool is called purpose. Explaining to people not only how to do something, but why to do it in the first place. When people know why they are doing something they do it a lot better. And yet a lot of our leadership is about how, not about why. A leader says here’s how you do it, here’s how you make a sales call, here’s how you write this computer code, here’s how you craft a press release. And what’s missing is that people out there are yearning, well why are we doing it in the first place, why does it matter, why does it contribute to a larger whole, why does my piece of it make a difference. This is about the cheapest performance enhancer we have in organizations, large and small.

So I think one of the single, best management techniques that you can deploy is this, as you’re watching this, in the next week have two fewer conversations about how and two more about why. So if you find yourself as a leader having that conversation about how, here’s how‑‑ stop yourself. And instead turning it into a conversation about why. Here’s why we do this. Here’s why what you do matters. And I think you will see an uptick in performance. Because it’s the nature of human beings to wonder why does it matter, why are we here. And we can’t dismiss that as something soft or ethereal. It’s actually very, very hard‑headed. It’s something‑‑ and here’s the great thing, it’s something that entrepreneurs are good at. Because entrepreneurs started companies with a purpose. They are not phoning it in. They don’t just need a job. They have a mission. They have a reason for doing things.

And what I want to urge you to do is bring that sense of purpose, bring that sense of why to the surface. Because it ends up being one of the most powerful tools that you have as an entrepreneurial leader. 

Suggested Readings

Founders School || Leadership and Motivation || Motivating by Purpose || Impact Guide (PDF).

Pink, Daniel H. 2009. Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. New York: Riverhead Books. Chapter 6 “Purpose”.

Grant, Adam. 2013. Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success. New York: Penguin Books. Chapter 6.

Questions for You

How does purpose motivate me?

How can I use purpose to motivate those around me?

Tools and exercises

Make a list of the five major tasks you have before you this week. Can you identify the purpose of these tasks?

Have two more conversations about why, and two fewer conversations about how.