The Purpose-Driven Business: Why Your Mission Matters

This post by Jan Bruce, CEO and co-founder of meQuilibrium, first appeared on

Your success—as a leader, visionary, executive—isn’t just the sum of all you do in any given day or even in a given year. That’s because excellence isn’t a list of to-do’s. The way to excel in your field and in your business is the degree to which you are purpose driven. Your why, in other words, matters more than just your what.

Venture capitalist Tony Tjan recently pondered on his HBR blog what it was that billionaires have in common. He writes, “It turns out there are many ways to make a billion dollars: real estate, investing, gaming and entertainment, retail, technology, and good old-fashioned inheritance. But the most interesting (and most respected) businesses and personalities are also the ones with the strongest and most authentic purposes behind them.”

Purpose, he says, isn’t a lofty thing, not some luxury that only billionaires can afford. In fact, if you want to grow and grow big, you can’t do it without a strong mission to get you there.

I couldn’t agree more. Purpose is no guarantee you’ll be a billionaire (of course), but you can’t build something powerful and meaningful without it.

In her post on Forbes, sales leadership expert and author Lisa Earle McLeod writes that this idea that emotions don’t belong in the workplace is total bunk: “…people want an emotional connection with their work. In fact, I’ll take it a step further; people are desperate to be part of something bigger than themselves.”

We know this well at meQuilibrium; it’s what we teach. We look at employee engagement as three levels:

Level 1 is the most basic and the least involved: You’re there for the pay and the benefits. End of story.

Level 2: You’re there because you enjoy the work and the people you work with. It’s a good place to be and you don’t hate being there. For some, that’s as good as it gets.

Level 3: You’re there because you believe you are contributing to something important. You’re aligned with a mission, and your actions, your hard work, has a purpose.

We know that the higher level of connection, the greater your resilience—which means you’re far more able to weather the storm, to cope with stress and bear up under tough times. In fact, the more engaged and connected you and your team are to the work itself, the lower your stress levels will be. Not because the work is easier—not at all. But because your response to stress won’t be the same as someone who’s just in it for the paycheck (who will buckle or bail when things get tough because there’s nothing else holding her up—or there).

And this is my mission: To give people—employees, managers, all the way up to CEO—the tools to become more engaged and connected to their work. And in so doing, shift their stress response and improve their satisfaction at work and everywhere else. Purpose is the thing that will keep you afloat, no matter how the tides turn. And if you have it, you can get through just about anything.

I agree with McLeod: It’s up to you, the entrepreneur, the business owner, the executive, to create that meaning, that “noble mission.” It must come down from the top. What are you doing to create it, embed it, embody it in your culture and workplace? It’s not enough to print it up on a mug—you have to make it real. Nothing will disillusion employees or clients like a company that only pays lip service to an ideal without doing the work to make it true.

“People want to make money,” writes McLeod. “They also want to make a difference. Creating a culture of purpose is how you do both.”