FAST COMPANY Over the past decade, leaders in business, education, and the social sector have become more interested in the development of purpose. Leading social entrepreneurship incubator Echoing Green hosted a movement-building Purpose Summit, the John Templeton Foundation sponsored a nationwide scholarship program to encourage youth to write purpose-inspired college essays, and the AARP began a big push to encourage “encore” purpose-focused second careers. Despite this increased focus on purpose, our organizations are sorely lacking leaders who are aware of and deeply connected to the purpose behind their work.
We believe this is in part because our culture conflates being mission-oriented with being purpose-driven. A mission is the what you’re trying to accomplish, and a purpose is the why. Toms founder Blake Mycoskie says the company’s mission is to sell shoes, but his purpose is to provide free footwear to people in need. Apple’s mission centers on being a leading computer company, but Steve Jobs’s purpose was to create beautifully designed, innovative tech products. Clearly the why and the what are two different things.
More specifically, Bill Damon, the director of the Stanford Center on Adolescence and author of Path to Purpose defines purpose as “a long-term, forward-looking intention to accomplish aims that are both meaningful to the self and of consequence to the world beyond the self.” Purposeful leaders act in ways that are personally meaningful and socially beneficial.