Tanveer Naseer

Leadership Coach, Speaker, and Writer

Forget Passion – What Employees Need Is Purpose-Led Work

Discover why it takes more than passion to inspire the very best in our employees and how the key is providing purpose-led work.

These days, it seems like the world is facing scarcity in a wide range of areas – from something as basic as access to food and clean water, to something more personal as a lack of time to get through our various daily tasks.

But if there’s one area where there’s no concerns about scarcity these days it’s passion. Whether it’s discussions about politics, social issues, or even the latest movies or TV shows, there’s no doubt that there’s a lot of passion – and debate – to be found in these conversations.

While these forms of passion can become problematic at times, in general, we tend to view people being passionate about something to be a good thing. And no doubt this is why there persists this misguided notion that the key to success is to ‘figure out what you’re passionate about and build a life doing that’.

Don’t get me wrong – passion is a great motivator. But the catch is that its ability to motivate us only works over the short term. When it comes to running the long game, passion sadly comes up short.

That’s why many leaders run into trouble when they try to improve employee morale by encouraging employees to be passionate about their work. While we might gain an uptick in productivity, the truth is that passion alone is not enough to keep that internal drive going over the long run.

What we’re missing is the other half of the equation – that while passion might get our employees energized and excited about what we can create through our collective efforts, what we need to keep our employees invested in our organizational vision is creating purpose-led work.

Thankfully, a majority of leaders are beginning to understand this as a recent survey done by EY Beacon and Harvard Business Review Analytic Services found that more than 80% of executives said purpose-led work leads to greater levels of employee satisfaction and customer loyalty, not to mention improving an organization’s ability to transform.

That’s why it’s important to recognize that passion without purpose is a lost opportunity for us to do something that’s meaningful and enduring [Twitter logoShare on Twitter].

Granted, when we start talking about creating purpose-led work, this can lead to some hesitation on the part of leaders and their organizations because of the misplaced notion that purposeful work has to be glamorous or exciting.

The truth, however, is that we don’t need work to be exciting for us to derive a sense of value or meaning from it. Rather, what’s needed is being able to see and understand for ourselves how our contributions are making a difference towards achieving our collective vision and long-term goals.

In other words, our sense of purpose is not just about what we do, but how we choose to view what we do [Twitter logoShare on Twitter].

It’s also worth noting here that while passion motivates, purpose drives us to show up and deliver our best because we care [Twitter logoShare on Twitter]. And that depth of commitment and emotional investment in the shared purpose that binds our collective efforts is why we often remark how passionate people seem to be so excited and invested in their work. Our passion should be a reflection of the sense of purpose we derive from the work we do [Twitter logoShare on Twitter].

Of course, the value of promoting purpose-led work is not just in how it helps to sustain our internal drive to keep pushing forward. Purpose-led work also makes it easier for us to better manage and learn from failure. As a matter of fact, by focusing on creating purpose, we can better manage failure because we’re compelled to do better [Twitter logoShare on Twitter].

Since we’re not tied down to the short-term, but to the long-term view, we give ourselves permission to know that our failures merely reflect what we lack in understanding, knowledge, and/or experience today. That it’s not indicative of our potential to learn and grow from this setback so we can do better going forward.

Seen in this light, we can appreciate how purpose prevails in the face of failure because we know this is not the end of our journey [Twitter logoShare on Twitter].

Another benefit that comes from focusing on creating opportunities for your employees to do purpose-led work is how it will encourage not only a sense of pride in their work, but of collective ownership in your organization’s vision.

The fact is, we all have bad days where we can’t seem to get things started or feel like we’re not making any progress. In those moments, passion can fail us as a motivating force to push through because those feelings of not doing our part, of not being as productive as we can and should be are too difficult for mere passion to overcome.

But through purpose-led work, we foster the understanding that we’re in this together and consequently, we’ll have each other’s back because all of us are committed to seeing our collective efforts succeed. Purpose-led work is about all of us benefiting and succeeding, as opposed to simply a select few [Twitter logoShare on Twitter].

Marshall Goldsmith recently interviewed his good friend Frances Hesselbein, the former executive director of the Girl Scouts of America, and at one point during their conversation Hesselbein shares this powerful statement:

“Work is love made visible.”

Hesselbein then elaborates on this by telling Goldsmith about some of the work her organization does, saying “we give away as much as we can”.

Reading Hesselbein’s eloquent words about our relationship with work is what inspired this piece because the elegant simplicity of her message reveals a fundamental truth about what it takes to succeed. Namely, that what we need to succeed is doing work we love because it provides us with meaning and purpose [Twitter logoShare on Twitter].

As leaders, it’s something we have an obligation to honour and provide to our employees, especially if we are looking at our employees with the expectation that they will provide us with their best efforts in order to ensure success in achieving our long-term goals.

And as Hesselbein points out, as leaders we do have it within ourselves and our abilities to “give away as much as we can” because of the very nature of our role, which is to provide the means under which those we lead can succeed and flourish.

No doubt the best way we can accomplish this is by ensuring our employees are not simply passionate about the work they do, but that this passion is derived from a sense of purpose and meaning in what they contribute to the shared purpose that guides and informs our collective efforts.

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