The following is adapted from From Simi Valley to Silicon Valley.
When you’re leading a company, a strong sense of purpose and value drives more impactful decisions than following the almighty buck. Purpose fuels motivation, inspires effort, and binds teams together. Without a moral compass guiding your work, whether it’s solving world hunger or simply bringing people together, you risk becoming directionless.
When profit-driven companies hit a rough patch and lose their financial edge, their employees will flee the metaphorical sinking ship because they have no other reason to stay.
Let’s take a closer look at why you need more than a power-hungry drive for profit if you want your business to achieve long-term success and leave a lasting legacy.
Seeing the Value of Purpose
In the mid-2000s, I worked as the head of technology for a Bill Gates-owned company called Corbis. In this role, I worked with Bill Gates himself, and peripherally assisted with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
Before taking this position, I had never fully internalized the concept of a company having a moral purpose, but seeing how the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation operated in the world, working for the greater good of humanity, helped me begin to more deeply understand. I could connect my personal values and motivations for working with a company to the things that went beyond financial considerations. By prioritizing purpose, I could have an impact on the world and find greater fulfillment.
I also saw how mission, purpose, and values resonated with others who wanted to work for an organization that was trying to do good in the world. People reacted positively to a larger purpose binding us together, and these more philosophical elements began to play a bigger role in steering my business decisions.
I wanted to understand if the leaders I was working with were inspired by things and had convictions that went beyond just creating a high stock price and making a lot of money. I wanted to know that they were truly invested in the idea of doing good in the world.
In the years since my time at Corbis, purpose has become a core tenet of my leadership philosophy.
This point was further driven home by an article I read on GeekWire in which author Malcolm Gladwell asserted that, fifty years from now, no one will remember Steve Jobs. But they will remember Bill Gates — not because of Microsoft, but because of his quest to cure malaria, bring fresh drinking water to the places that need it, and provide assistance for the most impoverished areas of the world.
This idea was shocking to read at the time, but it made sense to me and reinforced the importance of involving meaning and a social conscience in business, rather than just economic interests.
Now, when I make an employment decision for myself or recruit others, I lead with these bigger-picture ideas. I lead with purpose. When I’m recruiting, I also try to understand what motivates the candidate and how they make decisions. In essence I want to know what they believe in.
As a leader, I consider myself both a champion and evangelist for the company mission, purpose, and values in every conversation I have with an employee, potential employee, or customer. More important than how much money the company can make or what its stock price is, I am concerned with answering questions like why we are here, why we have this opportunity, and what problem we are solving for people and organizations.
When you are purpose-driven, trying to do good in the communities where you operate and do right by your people, there is a net positive that can’t be acquired in any other way than through authenticity.
By basing your business decisions on a foundation of purpose, you’ll earn your employees’ loyalty, have a constant compass to guide your company, and leave a legacy of positive change that will last long after your profit-driven competition fades from memory.
For more advice on purpose-driven leadership, you can find From Simi Valley to Silicon Valley on Amazon.
Stephen Gillett is the co-founder and CEO at Chronicle — an Alphabet company born out of X, The Moonshot Factory — and is an executive advisor to the CEO at Google. As one of the youngest CIOs of a Fortune 500 company in history, he was responsible for leading the technological transformation of Starbucks under Howard Schultz. Stephen’s previous positions included CIO at Corbis, working directly with Bill Gates; President at Best Buy; and COO at Symantec. As an avid lifelong gamer, Wired also recognized him as an innovative Guild Master in World of Warcraft. Stephen lives in Silicon Valley with his high school sweetheart and their eight children. Stephen can be reached at SVtoSV@gillett.org.