The power of clarity in personal purpose

Jimmy Burroughes
8 min readFeb 1, 2023

Most successful leaders know that it is essential to understand the power of having a clear Team Purpose. A team that knows its Purpose can work together more effectively and achieve more success.

As an organisation, we talk about helping leaders to build a high-performance culture with their teams by activating their people’s potential. During the Alignment (1st) module of WoW, we help clarify the Team Purpose, which we’ll talk about in a couple of weeks.

As humans, we don’t just have a Team Purpose though. To be most effective, we need clarity and alignment on a series of Purpose statements that incorporate our Personal, Role/Job, Team, and Organisational Purposes. At JBL we use a model to talk about Purpose called the Purpose Pyramid. Much like a pyramid, you need a strong base to build from, or things can get a bit shaky later on. Team Purpose is a few layers up. The base and first level is Personal Purpose.

Purpose Pyramid

In order to achieve this alignment across all the purposes, you need a Personal Purpose first. Many people haven’t got any clarity of theirs. When employees can see how all the Purposes link together, true performance really starts to unfold.

According to Mckinsey, people who find their individual Purpose to be consistent with their jobs tend to get more meaning from their roles, making them more productive and more likely to outperform their peers. It’s like they suddenly start being ‘in the zone’. We have found it super meaningful to help leaders support and encourage their team members to find their Personal Purpose.

For the left-brainers, Mckinsey’s research also proved a positive correlation between the Purposefulness of employees and their company’s EBITDA margin. So there’s a clear commercial benefit to finding and hiring people who are clear on, and driven by an aligned Personal Purpose to your team.

Let’s explore Personal Purpose a little more.

A team is made up of people. Each of those people plays a different role in the team, bringing unique perspectives and inputs. Each role, even if identical on the org chart, employs an individual. That individual chose that role because of some reason. A survey conducted by McKinsey showed that 89% of the employees surveyed agreed that they wanted Purpose in their lives but more than 50% didn’t know or see it. You as a leader have an incredible opportunity to understand and explore this with each member of your team.

I wanted to share a story about Charles, whose Personal Purpose, and the effects it had on his life, blew me away. He became one of the triggers for us to start creating a Personal Purpose tool to support the WoW program.

We met Charles* in one of our early WoW workshops. Charles grew up, the son of immigrants, in a household with five siblings, where money was always a challenge.

There wasn’t enough to go around and spending on big dinners out at restaurants was out of reach. Charles’s parents were both working full time and his dad had two jobs; driving a cab at night to bring in some extra money.

When we asked him about his Personal Purpose and what had led him to it, we heard amazing detail of the moments in his childhood that had formed it. The stories of hardship they felt as a family, and injustices he felt needed resolving in the world.

Interestingly, during our research, we saw a strong correlation between people’s sense of Purpose, what they felt was right and wrong, and their values. Many other people’s Purpose was also strongly informed by an experience of pain or hardship that they believe needed to be addressed. Or positively influenced by a real example of something they valued or cherished.

Charles spoke about the moments when his stomach grumbled from hunger when he went to school without breakfast. Or the underwhelm that came from eating the same dish every night for a week,

“Because that was all there was”.

He grew up without ever having eaten out just for enjoyment. He didn’t complain when he said this. It was very matter-of-fact.

One event that he attached great significance to was his sixteenth birthday when his mother came to him in tears, apologizing that she simply couldn’t afford to buy him a cake, but that she had baked a pie for family dinner and put his name and the number 16 in pastry letters on top.

“It was better than any cake because she did it for me!” he said with a beaming smile.

Charles recognized how much his Mum would try with the little money they had. He saw her budgeting hard and feeding everyone as well as she could. He saw the personal touches during moments like the “pie/cake” event and he remembered them. They became part of his identity and energised him.

He also recognized that the values of hard work and generosity were key to succeeding in life. He promised himself that his Purpose was to make things different for his family and anyone who he interacted with.

Charles grew up with a dream of creating completely personal moments where he could see the light in people’s eyes as he unveiled his latest creation just for them; just like he had experienced all those years ago with a few letters and a number on a pie. Eventually, he became an event planner and then an event director. Charles now runs a multi-six-figure corporate hospitality business catering to global and national events.

When we asked him to describe his Purpose and the way he approaches work, he was instant in his response,

“it’s about making every person feel like I thought about them personally, and went the extra mile for them to have a great time — no matter whether I am working or not”.

He elaborated,

“I didn’t have the best upbringing and I missed out on a lot of things other kids had, but I never forgot that Mum went the extra mile every time to make moments special for us and even though we didn’t have 2 cents, we were rich in love and effort towards each other. You can’t teach that”.

Now Charles focusses on hiring people into his business who have a similar outlook. He doesn’t require them to have come from a poor background but he specifically seeks out people who have a Purpose related to service and the satisfaction of others. He wants people who know WHY they are going the extra mile because hospitality is a tough business and you have to love what you do.

For Charles, the purpose doesn’t just extend to his customers. It is for his staff as well.

“We have a staff house support plan to help people save bit by bit for a deposit and we match it dollar for dollar. We ensure all our staff get to eat the same meal before our guests do at events so they can talk to guests about the menu and they also have full bellies to work, because a lot of them are struggling to make ends meet for their families. We recognise anniversaries, personal events like weddings and births with personal touches, and try to make everyone feel like we care about them in the same way my mum did about me”.

When we started the research on Purpose, we asked why is it important to know your personal Purpose, the Purpose of your job, the Purpose of your team and the Purpose your business. We landed on two significant factors. Identity and impact.

As we saw, the way Charles was brought up significantly affected and continues to be part of his identity. He is who he is and the choices and way he lives his life are based on these experiences and his desire to identify as being someone who helps others — this is his Personal Purpose.

The job he does and the team he runs are part of his impact and the way he feels he is making a difference in the world. We will explore impact in future blogs.

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused many employees to reflect on their Personal Purpose. According to Mckinsey, nearly two-thirds of US-based employees surveyed said they have reflected due to the pandemic and nearly half said that they are reconsidering the kind of work they do because of the pandemic.

This suggests that employees are more likely to choose a company that aligns with their Purpose but it also means that the exercise of finding and discussing personal Purpose with your employees is extremely valuable because the landscape has shifted for many since they joined teams.

Action tips:

Discussing a Personal Purpose takes work but is also a fantastic way to build trust and alignment. Try these conversations to uncover the Personal Purpose of your team members:

  • If you are onboarding new people, discuss and understand what their personal Purpose is. What’s their personal why? What are their values? And if they can’t articulate them, help them to uncover them.
  • Have 1:1s with your team members and ask them about their upbringing and the part of their life that they feel has created who they are today.
  • Ensure you carve out some time to identify what your own personal purpose is, and share that with your team too. They will feel more connected to you when they know why you do what you do and what led you to be who you are today.

Next week we’ll be exploring the concept of Job Purpose and why people do the jobs they do and their contributions to the team. We’ll also help to explain one of the key purposes of your role as a leader to help you create a high-performance culture.

Speak soon,


(*not his real name)

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Jimmy Burroughes

Showing leaders and teams how to change their conversations to change their business performance results.