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As a leader, you might find it exhausting to be confronted daily with multiple articles about leadership skills. Transformational leadership, cross-cultural leadership, coaching leadership, digital leadership – the list goes on and on. But when it comes to the digital transformation of the workforce there is one leadership skill that stands out: Making your employees feel your company’s purpose.

Over the past couple of years, there’s been more and more evidence that purpose-driven business is crucial for success. Customers tend to buy from companies that commit to a higher purpose, brands are evaluated by how purposeful they position themselves, and even employees prefer to work for a responsible company – even though this might go hand-in-hand with a pay cut.

Why purpose matters for direct leadership

You may recognize the importance of the company’s purpose and communicating it to the outside world (e.g., customers or job candidates). But you may not realize how important it is to also communicate purpose to your employees.

As a people manager, you want your employees to be as happy as possible. The reason for this is pretty simple: The higher your employees’ satisfaction with and commitment to the company, the more engaged they are, and the more engaged they are, the higher they perform. All the leadership skills mentioned above certainly contribute to increasing employee engagement, but to get to the next level in times of digital transformation, you also need to inspire your employees.

According to Bain & Company partners Eric Garton and Michael Mankins in Harvard Business Review (HBR), productivity among satisfied employees is 100%, while engaged employees hit 144%, and inspired employees deliver 225% productivity. Garton and Mankins state that employees are inspired if they get meaning from their company’s purpose and are inspired by leaders in their company.

Inspirational and purpose-driven leadership skills

According to Bain’s research on inspirational leadership, one trait stands out among inspirational leaders: centeredness, or a state of mindfulness that enables leaders to remain calm under stress, empathize, listen deeply, and remain present. But, even though your company has a bold vision and your leaders are centered, your employees may be engaged but not inspired.

One reason is that many companies have separated the two components of inspiration. They have positioned their higher purpose to the outside world and their leaders are striving to be as inspirational to employees as possible. But what is missing is a link between the two components.

Author, keynote speaker, and executive coach Carmine Gallo described seven ways to inspire employees to love their jobs. He referenced a dinner he had with Neil Armstrong, who taught him the power of purpose. Gallo learned that employees need to see how their work is connected to the big picture of the company’s purpose.

This is the leadership trait leaders need to internalize: If you want inspired employees, you not only have to be an inspiring leader, you also need to actively connect them to the company’s purpose. Don’t just hope that they are inspired about the company’s purpose through its marketing and communication. As a leader, you must ensure that every employee knows how they are contributing to the company’s purpose. In essence, by being the tie between employees and purpose, you are linking the two components of employee inspiration.

In “A Brand Is Just A Brand – Unless It Has A Purpose,” Julie Barrier, vice president, purpose-driven marketing at SAP, shared a story about a custodian at a medical clinic, someone who isn’t directly involved in patient care, who described her job as, “I save lives.” This is a perfect example of how any employee can feel an emotional connection to the company’s purpose if leadership helps them to understand how they are contributing to it with their daily jobs – no matter their role.

However, for leaders it can be difficult to see the connection between everyday tasks and the company’s purpose. In the next part of this series, we will share concrete tips on how to connect your employees to your company’s purpose across all the interactions you have with them.


This article originally appeared on Digitalist Magazine, in the Improving Lives section. See here.