Have you ever wondered to yourself, “What will people say about me when I die?” It’s something I’ve pondered ever since I was a little kid. A bit odd, you might say. Let me explain.
When I was five years old, my dad, who was a world-class doctor and the chief of anesthesia at one of the most reputable hospitals in the country, was diagnosed with malignant melanoma. He died when I was 13. In fact, he was the precise age I am right now when he died.
My dad loved what he did, and had a strong sense of purpose and pride in his work. He not only improved many people’s lives; he saved them.
I tell you this story not so you’ll feel sorry for me because I lost my father at such a young age, but rather to inspire you as my father inspired me. I believe that each of us, regardless of our profession or role in society, has both the ability and the duty to make the world a better place and improve people’s lives.
Like my father, I believe we can, and we must, commit to living our lives with purpose. And I believe we must work with purpose, too.
Driving performance through purpose
How can companies help their employees and customers fulfill a shared purpose? In a recent blog, Paul Zak, president of a neuroscience consumer research firm, notes his firm has studied the hypothesis that high-performance cultures enable high levels of interpersonal trust and a transcendent purpose. In his blog, Zak shares how Jeff Weiner, Linkedln’s CEO, believes that “culture and values are Linkedln’s most important competitive advantage.”
In the close of his blog, Zak offers some advice to leaders. He believes you can create a culture of purpose on purpose by starting with a story and making sure everyone knows it: “Your colleagues will be more engaged, performance will rise, and the bottom line will improve,” he says.
Reid Hoffman, Linkedln’s chairman and founder, has a philosophy similar to Zak’s. In his blog, he proudly states that “a strong sense of purpose remains the defining attribute of our employees” thirteen years after the company’s inception.
All of this reinforces a message in my previous blog: Leaders must set the example when it comes to championing a company’s purpose. Only then will employees follow.
Ying and yang: The corporate “why” drives the personal “why” (and vice-versa)
An article by Abbie Walker, a vice president at brand experience agency Momentum Worldwide, also explored the topic of purpose. She asks questions such as: What’s motivating people? What thoughts are keeping people up at night? Why am I here? What impact do I want to have on the people around me?
Walker says that success doesn’t lie in becoming more interesting or disruptive. “What we need is purpose and to help people realize their purpose,” she says. “To know your purpose as a brand is to know who you, as the brand, aspire to be. This defines your subsequent behavior inside the company, in your products, and ultimately how you impact the world.”
She goes on to add, “It’s the ‘why’ your brand exists. Consider a few well-known, proven examples. Pampers helps parents care for their babies and helps toddlers’ development. Amazon enables freedom of choice, exploration, and discovery. Red Bull energizes the world. Notice the commonality: Purpose transcends business and product (the what) and delivers on human principles (the why).”
Inspiring to improve lives
We at SAP are lucky enough to have a CEO who inspires us every day with the company’s vision and purpose, which is to help the world run better and improve people’s lives. As Bill McDermott says on his CEO site, “It’s our enduring cause. It’s why we do what we do. And it’s something I personally aspire to every day.” The ability to help customers re-imagine business and life to drive meaningful impact globally on big causes that touch billions of people is something that fulfills me, both personally and professionally.
I may not be a rock star doctor like my dad, but I do plan on sticking around for a long time. I hope that when I’m gone, people will say, “She touched my life, she made my world better, and she inspired me to be a better person.”
That’s my purpose.
What is your purpose? What do you want your legacy to be?
Want more insight on creating a brand with purpose? See Brand Integrity Starts With A Higher Purpose.