Importance of having a purpose

Horrible, No Good Bosses — The True Cost of Poor Leadership Blog #3: The Importance of Purpose

7 min. read

Master of Project Academy’s 8-part series Horrible Bosses, No Good Bosses: The True Cost of Poor Leadership was created to address the most common ways poor leadership results in flat/declining revenues and increased expenses. In this series, we will explore the topics of Communication, Networking, Emotional Intelligence, Leadership, Discipline, Teamwork, Adaptability, Conflict Resolution, Empathy, Positivity, Decisiveness, and Persuasion.

In the 2nd of our 8-Part Series Horrible Bosses: The True Cost of Poor Leadership, we discussed elements of intrinsic motivation and how employers can provide them. We narrowed our focus to four elements: Autonomy, Purpose, Growth, and Affiliation and did a deeper dive into Autonomy. In this one, we will discuss Purpose.

  • Check out our previous article about autonomy.

Jordan’s Story

Jordan has had enough! Every day he gets urgent demands from his boss to complete a report with an unrealistic deadline. These reports mostly seem unrelated to anything that is going on with the company and appears to not warrant the daily fire drill. For the past month, he has worked late at least three times a week and his personal life is beginning to suffer. His former employer has reached out to him three times over the last year, asking him to come back, and Jordan has always turned them down. Last night, he received another voicemail asking him to give the HR Hiring Director a call. As he opens his laptop at 8 am this morning, he is greeted with an email from his boss. “Call me the first thing for instructions on an assignment I need by end of the day today.”

Jordan closes his laptop and takes a few deep breaths. As he sips his coffee, he reminisces about how different life was with his former employer. He left because the money at his current job was simply too good to pass up, but now he wonders if that was the right decision. Before, he used to be part of a team that helped each other get work done. He had a supervisor who collaborated with him, instead of merely dictating the next meaningless assignment. On top of all of that, his work actually meant something! His team members were important cogs in the machine that created real value for their customers. Jordan picks up the phone and listens to the voicemail again, deciding immediately that he’s going to return this call.

Happy colleagues

One of Our Driving Needs: Purpose

Jordan’s boss is not an anomaly. So often, managers view their teams as “resources” to complete the necessary work and fail to recognize the individual needs of their employees. They view the relationship strictly as transactional and believe that, as long as applicable laws are followed, the biweekly paycheck is the only motivator their employees need. This couldn’t be more wrong. Yes, we all need money, and it is a motivator, but it’s far from the only one. One of our driving needs is purpose. For each of us, this is defined differently, but generally what we want is to know that what we do matters. That it matters to our coworkers, to the organization, and possibly to the world.

COVID-19 brought an intense focus to this need for purpose. As the pandemic progressed, people began to look inward and question whether they were living their lives in the ways they really wanted to live them. Since so much of our time is spent working, it was natural that these internal conversations focused on whether the work they were doing was aligned with their desires and values. In August 2020, as many as 2/3 of US employees surveyed stated they were reconsidering their employment choices and Millennials were up to 3x more likely to say so than their Gen X and Baby Boomer peers. ¹ With these numbers, it is clear that employers need to pay attention to the intrinsic motivator of purpose.

What Are the Benefits of “Meaningful Work” for the Employees and the Company?

Not convinced? Ok, let’s look at some data! A 2017 survey conducted by BetterUp Labs had some notable findings. Employees who value meaningful work stay longer with their employers. Employees who believe they are engaged in meaningful work are:

  • More productive, to the tune of an additional $9,000 in productivity value per year.
  • 69% less likely to intend to leave in the next 6 months (remember how much turnover actually costs us?)
  • 9 out of 10 workers were willing to take less pay (up to $21,000 per year) in order to have a purpose in their work. ²

How Do We Help Our Teams to Find Purpose in Their Work?

So, how do we help our teams to find purpose in their work? Much like any leadership question, the answer is, “it depends.” Each individual will be motivated by different things, but there are some common themes that appear when employees are asked. These include growth (personal and professional), shared goals, service, balance, and inspiration. In our next two blogs, we will discuss growth and shared goals, so today we will address service, balance, and inspiration.


Often, an organization spends a lot of time and money creating its Mission statement and advertising it in glossy brochures and in framed, colorful artwork, only to not follow through to the next step: ensuring that what they DO aligns with it. Organizations that “walk the walk” are a step ahead of their counterparts. This is because employees want to be part of something impactful. Employees want to know that their work serves a purpose – to the organization, to the community, and to the world. So often, when we are given work to do, we do not know the reasoning behind the assignment. Strong leaders know that it is necessary to ensure that their employees understand the ways their work connects to the overarching goals of their organizations, how it helps their teammates accomplish their objectives, and how it will impact their end-user/customer.

Man working on his laptop


As is always the case, each of your employees will have different needs in this category. The new mother, the soon-to-be retiring man, and the single, childless, recent college graduate will all have different ideas of what balance looks like. If your organization has a framework that allows for flexibility in schedules, workplaces, etc. then you will likely have an easier time meeting these needs. Whether your company promotes balance or not, your first step is to get to know what your employees want and need in this realm. Once you have this information, you can begin to work with your leadership and Human Resources teams to design the best environment for your individual employees.


In a 2015 survey of employees, 31% of employees felt they were not giving 100% at work. ³ One way to help bridge this gap is by becoming an inspiring leader. Much like all things related to leadership, there is no “one size fits all” solution, but there are many options available to leaders to help inspire their employees. Some of these include:

  • Provide reward and incentive programs.
  • Recognize effort and performance, both individually and within the team.
  • Choose servant leadership.
  • Be a positive energy in the team.
  • Be transparent.
  • Demonstrate trust in your team.
  • Be a trustworthy leader and team member.
  • Set challenging, yet achievable goals.

Great leaders understand that they have many tools available to them to design environments that best serve the needs of their individual team members. If these needs are met effectively, they result in intrinsically motivated employees who are highly engaged in their work. These highly engaged employees are more satisfied, healthier, more creative, and more productive.

In our next Horrible Bosses Blog, “Giving Them Room to Grow,” we will continue our discussion on Intrinsic Motivators and will focus on how we can provide environments where our employees are able to grow within their skills and careers.

For more information on providing your leaders with Master of Project Academy’s Leadership Program, where your leaders will get instructive and hands-on training through interactive exercises, case studies, templates, and techniques that can be customized to your organization’s specific needs, click HERE.

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  1. Help your employees find purpose—or watch them leave
  3. 14 Highly Effective Ways to Motivate Employees

Sandra WorleyWritten by: Sandra Worley

Sandra Worley has over 25 years’ experience in project management and leadership positions and holds PMP, ScrumMaster, Scrum Product Owner, Six Sigma Green Belt and Lean Six Sigma Black Belt certifications. Her project management experience spans many industries and disciplines, including IT software and hardware, as well as construction.