Fulfilling Your Purpose Isn’t Enough

In this article, Jessica Nordlander writes about how fulfilling one individual purpose no longer is enough. Being a leader is a choice, and with that choice comes responsibilities to inspire the leaders of tomorrow.

If you haven’t noticed, we are facing some big problems. 

When describing the current state of the world and the seemingly unending detonations of ‘the norm’, ‘unprecedented’ seems to be a recurring theme. Climate change, wars, pandemics, poverty, systemic racism, fractured political discourse, red-blue, right-left, choose-a-side division – the list of issues facing us as a race is … overwhelming. 

The pick-a-problem-to-tackle vending machine is full and most of us willingly take our turns, choosing a cause we feel compelled to get behind, a more sustainable product to buy, a ‘better’ political candidate to back. The reality is however that the level of impact we can have with any of the choices we make – how we use our time, spend our money or cast our vote – is contingent on the abilities and foresight of the leaders steering the ships we’re jumping aboard. Our political leaders, educational leaders, those at the helm of every organization, from the smallest nonprofit, to each of the Fortune 100 goliaths, hold exponential power to solve problems, even those that can seem impossible to fix and literally would be for any single one of us. 

The bottom line is, if there’s one silver bullet to every single one of the problems being faced, it lies with having exceptional, purpose-driven leaders focusing their attention and galvanizing the support and effort of those they lead, to fix what is broken. In this, there is an incredible power to turn the tide. 

And countless are already doing the work. I see them within my day-to-day interactions, across my social media feeds, the podcasts I listen to, and the media I consume. From brands and innovators working on smarter, cleaner solutions to dumb, dirty problems, scientists dedicated to reducing suffering in future generations of humans, leaders priotizing the wellbeing of their teams and ethics of their products over another dollar of profit and impact investors fuelling solutions with exponential power to change tired and broken systems. And beyond those that are visible and celebrated, purposeful leaders are everywhere, impacting quiet corners of the world, running stores, teaching kids, caring for members of their communities and protecting their local environments.

The impact of a purpose-driven leader can’t be understated and it’s therefore unnerving that an increasing number within the upcoming generation aren’t putting their hands up for the job.

When you need more but are getting less

The leadership dynamic is changing – and it’s one we must pay attention to. 

An INSEAD study of 18,000 working professionals and students across the world, showed that Gen Z (those born from 1994 onwards) aren’t vying to jump into their managers’ shoes and take control. As an example, only half of millennials in the workforce in Japan covet leadership roles and less than half of Gen Z in Denmark feel that becoming a leader is important. 

Notably though, while they might not aspire to leadership, Gen Z do want to be inspired. 85% of Gen Z respondents in a ThoughtExchange study said that they want to work for a company with a mission and 89% say they would leave a company that doesn’t include them in that. 

So while the next generation are purpose-driven, they simply don’t see leadership as the way to make the change they want to see, or as a position that’s worth the anticipated sacrifices. The inspiring and unparalleled potential of purposeful leadership is being shadowed by a promise of stress, sacrifice and naked exposure to criticism – a parallel view of what the role requires that’s evidently and understandably impacting its appeal.

Future leaders need strong, future-looking role models, and they need them quickly. 

Purposeful leadership isn’t enough

Unless you’re a member of a royal family, if you’re a leader, it’s not been thrust on you. You’ve made choices to push to the top, either consciously or otherwise. It’s not a been a coincidence but a decision, and one likely based on the pursuit of some combination of purpose, money or power, depending on what motivates you most. 

For me, motivation comes almost solely from purpose – money comes in a distant second and power is relevant only in how it can be used to galvanize a team towards a goal. My purpose in the recent past is to help leaders communicate better, to build better, stronger and more progressive organizations through tapping the collective intelligence of their teams. It is my choice from the vending machine, the way I feel I can have an exponential impact.  

The truth is though that no matter how impactful I’m able to be in the work I do – and the multitudes of other leaders are in their own endeavors – its strength lies in being built upon by an inspired and compelled generation looking to take up the reigns and advance things further. 

Fulfilling an individual purpose is no longer enough. As I see it, it’s imperative that leaders of today ensure their purpose involves inspiring the leaders of tomorrow. Whether it be through actively demonstrating the power and potential of leadership through their own actions, through mentorship, or through education, the value of ethical, responsible and innovative leadership has to be made crystal clear. 

Regardless of why you became a leader, your purpose now is to ensure you inspire others. By doing so, you might just give us a fighting chance of changing course. Not only on the next generation’s view and pursuit of leadership, but of the health and quality of human life itself.

Jessica Nordlander

Chief Operating Officer, Thoughtexchange

Jessica Nordlander is a technology executive with an MSc in Applied IT, an XGoogler and was recently named the Most Innovative Leader in one of the most innovative countries in the world (her native Sweden).