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5 questions for leaders who want to lead a purpose revolution at work

purposeA version of this review first ran in the June 23 edition of The Hamilton SpectatorThe Hamilton Spectator.

The Purpose Revolution: How Leaders Create Engagement and Competitive Advantage in an Age of Social Good

By John Izzo and Jeff Vanderwielen

Berrett-Koehler Publishers Inc.


I have the privilege of working with some pretty remarkable professors and instructors who never fail to impress.

They’ve challenged students to raise more than $160,000 for Food4Kids and deliver Christmas presents to every child at a North Hamilton primary school. They’ve coached and mentored students to sweep award categories at national and North American advertising competitions. They’ve put students to work renovating public housing units, a church, rec centre and community theatre. They’ve taught women how to renovate kitchens and bathrooms.

Teaching courses is their job. Transforming lives and launching careers is their purpose. It’s what keeps them motivated semester after semester and gets their students engaged in their learning.

So if you run a restaurant, you’re not just serving food. You’re giving the lunch crowd an escape in the middle of their day and a place at night and on weekends to celebrate milestones and moments with family and friends.

If you run a cleaning service, you’re giving  homeowners the gift of time. If you run a clothing store, you’re giving people the self-confidence that comes with looking good.

Every business and organization has a purpose beyond selling products and services and making a profit.  Connect people to that purpose and they’ll want to work for you, spend and invest their money with you.

Finding that purpose can be a challenge. John Izzo and Jeff Vanderwielen, authors of The Purpose Revolution, recommend the search has to start with yoru senior leadership.

Izzo and Vanderwielen have helped hundreds of companies and leaders find their purpose by first defining their legacy.

To figure that out, they ask leaders five questions.

  • How will the world be a better place because of what you’re doing?
  • How will your family be better off?
  • How will the people who work with you be better off?
  • How are you making a difference for the people you serve and the community where you do business?
  • And when people talk about your influence and impact, what words and phrases do you hope to hear?

“Time and again, we have seen how the conversation in a room changes when you ask leaders this simple question – legacy is a powerful word,” say Izzo and Vanderwielen.

“Rarely do their responses focus on profits, revenue or market share. Instead, they tend to talk about the difference they have made in the lives of employees, customers, the community and their industry. When they connect to their legacy, they become aware of their higher and perhaps truest aspiration.”

Leaders who are clear on their legacy can then get to work on building a purpose-centred organization.

“We found that a CEO or business owner acting as a champion of purpose makes a huge difference in any organization aspiring to its higher purpose.”

Lacking a higher purpose is a problem in this current era of social good.  A revolution is underway, say Izzo and Vanderwielen. Yes, it’s important to make money. Yet current and prospective employees, customers and investors expect organizations to also make a difference. We want our work, purchases and investments to help leverage a better world now and into the future.

Do it right and you earn our loyalty. Ignore the purpose revolution and you risk irrelevance.

According to Izzo and Vanderwielen, a purposeful organization is wholly committed to making life better for customers, employees, society and the environment both now and into the future.

Yet the authors say a majority of organizations get a failing grade when it comes to closing the gap between what companies are doing and what employees, customers and investors expect.

Common pitfalls include:

  • Believing that making money is a purpose. “Profits do matter, but sustainable profits are almost always an outgrowth of serving a purpose.”
  • Confusing purpose with a marketing program.  Purpose is everyone’s responsibility and must drive day-to-day decisions. “It is more important to have purpose and live it authentically than it is to simply tell people you have purpose.”
  • Making purpose a one-way street. Instead of a top-down edict, you need genuine involvement by employees who are motivated by their own values. If they can live those values by working in your organization, you’ll build a purpose-driven organization that feels authentic to customers and investors.
  • Purpose is just stuck on a wall, with well-meaning words framed behind glass. “The conversation about purpose is more important than the articulation,” say Izzo and Vanderwielen.  “A well-articulated purpose is good but what determines its effectiveness in a company is how alive the conversation about that purpose is.”

Along with leaders adopting personal purpose statements and then encouraging everyone to do the same, Izzo and Vanderwielen recommend that organizations to replace job functions with job purpose. “When we connect to the true purpose of our work, it is transformed from a mean’s to an end to an end in and of itself.

“The purpose revolution demands commitment, and that requires discipline. Right now, there are companies and leaders who will one day be known for having won in the age of social good. The question is whether you will be one of them.”

To join those ranks, Izzo and Vanderwielen give practical advice and a gameplan for hands-on purpose-building across your entire organization.

@jayrobb serves as director of communications for Mohawk College, lives in Hamilton and has reviewed business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999.


5 keys to launching & leading a movement at work or in your community (REVIEW)

PURPOSEFULThis review first ran in the June 9 edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

Purposeful: Are You a Manager or a Movement Maker?

By Jennifer Dulski

Portfolio / Penguin


Manal Rostom started wearing a hijab after surviving a bus crash that killed her cousin. She wanted to thank God for giving her a second chance at life.

Manal launched a Facebook group called Surviving Hijab and invited 80 women to join her online community. Overnight, 500 women signed up.  Today, there are more than 570,000 members.

Manal is also an avid runner who wants to empower hijabi women to be active and play sports. So Manal emailed Nike asking for help. Nike said yes. In 2015, Manal became the first hijabi athlete featured in a Nike ad campaign and the first coach of an all-women’s Nike running club in Dubai.

In 2017, Manal was invited to join other Muslim female athletes in testing Nike Pro Hijab prototypes. The hijabs went to market earlier this year.

“That swoosh gives us power,” Manal told Jennifer Dulski, author of Purposeful. “It was magical. It was the first time that a multinational brand said they would cater to this segment of Muslim women.”

So how about you? What’s your passion? What cause do champion and what change would you make at work or in our community?

“I believe wholeheartedly that every single person has the capacity to start and lead a movement that changes the world,” says Dulski, Head of Groups and Community at Facebook and the former President and Chief Operating Officer at “We all have the power to inspire people and spark movements around issues that matter. Whatever your movement or your cause, you have the ability to affect people’s lives.”

All of us have a choice, says Dulski. We can be managers or movement starters. “Whereas managers accept the world as it is, movement starters burn with the passion to make it more just, equitable and engaging.”

Building a movement starts by setting out a clear and compelling vision and purpose. What’s your desired future and why do you want it? “A movement simply cannot exist without a vision to rally people around and the more clearly articulated that vision is, the easier it will be to mobilize people to achieve it.”

Once you have your vision and purpose, start winning over decision-makers. Browbeating and publicly shaming the powers that be is not a winning strategy. You need allies and long-term partners, says Dulski. Understand what motivates key decision-makers and then make a realistic ask that lends itself to an easy yes.

Now it’s time to inspire your team and keep them motivated. You need every single person to buy in and fight for the cause. “Without others supporting you and spreading your cause, you really don’t have a movement.”

Expect criticism and use it to your advantage. Listen to genuine and constructive feedback. Ignore what Dulski calls the tsunami of haterade and remember the army of supporters standing with you. “One way to overcome the cruelty of haters is to build enough positivity around us to dwarf the negative reactions we do receive. Put more positive around you than negative, and it can boost you up, even amid the cruelest of trolls.”

And finally, be mentally prepared for the journey ahead and the obstacles to come. You’ll be scaling the mountains you aim to move. “The key to success is holding on to the belief that you will have more sunny days than cloudy ones and to just keep climbing, every day no matter what.”

Living a life in pursuit of positive impact is why we’re all here, says Dulski. She highlights movement makers like Manal throughout her book, showing how ordinary people can accomplish extraordinary things.

“We’ve seen the power that can come from those who step up to start movements and from the large numbers of people who support them – new, purpose-driven companies, new ideas and approaches within staid organizations, and new policies and laws that create a better world for all of us. Now it’s your turn.”

Dulski shows how to do it. So why not you?

@jayrobb serves as director of communications for Mohawk College, lives in Hamilton and has reviewed business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999.