Leadership: why purpose is key to success

The need for purpose in leadership is not a new idea – we’ve heard it bandied about for years. Brands, companies and leaders all need a ‘purpose’ - a deep, ethical, meaningful reason to exist that matters to customers, leaders and employees. The link between a guiding purpose and commercial gain has been firmly established. Brand Learning’s Growth Drivers Study uncovered that 87% of Growth Driver organisations are guided in everything they do by a purpose.

Unilever, for example, has woven its sustainability agenda into the fabric of the way people work, and sees greater social and environmental accountability as inextricably linked with long term organic growth for its brands. Results have proven this philosophy to be valuable for the company, with 18 of Unilever’s top 40 brands having a purpose based on sustainability. For example, Unilever no longer sells just soap, but instead sells a purpose to save lives with LifeBuoy. LifeBuoy is currently teaching 397 million people to wash their hands with a target of 1 billion by 2020 [1]. These ‘Sustainable Living’ brands are growing more than 50% faster than the rest of the portfolio and accounted for 60% of growth in 2016 [2]. How does this translate for leaders personally? Watch our interview with Unilever’s Keith Weed on how to excel in marketing leadership.

The question remains: how many leaders really energise themselves around a purpose that inspires people to come to work to make a difference, rather than just a pay cheque? A recent CIPD study [3] found only 40% of UK employees score their leadership high on having a purpose at work, and only one in five UK leaders considers themselves to be a ‘purposeful leader’.

There is a clear evidence-based call to action for leaders to articulate and engage their people with a powerful purpose. But in reality, defining a personal purpose can feel too overwhelming, too difficult, and not tangible enough, and many leaders simply never quite give it the time and space it needs. Great leaders, however, don’t make this mistake. Just ask Elon Musk.

So what is your purpose? What future do you want to create and what difference do you hope to make? And how do you engage a whole organisation in that purpose to give it traction and unleash its power? This is a central question at Brand Learning leadership programmes.

We build purpose from personal insight (strengths, passions, talents) and connect this understanding to customers, organisations and their teams to create a powerful drive for engaging partners. 

I was lucky enough to uncover my purpose as part of Brand Learning and The Marketing Society’s International Marketing Leaders Programme and it has helped me step-change my leadership impact and shape my career choices. I recommend the experience to all aspiring marketing leaders.

As a leader, being clear on why you lead as well as what you need to do will help you to inspire people to great ideas and commitment. And it makes showing up to work a lot more interesting and rewarding, giving you a reason to lead and a story to tell. We highly recommend giving it a try.

BRAND LEARNING: Inspiring people. Lifting capabilities. Growing organisations.


[1] The Marketing Academy Purpose Development Lecture with Keith Weed 19th July 2017

[2] https://www.marketingweek.com/2017/05/18/unilever-sustainable-brands-growth/

[3] https://www.cipd.co.uk/knowledge/strategy/leadership/purposeful-leadership-report