Nurturing Purpose: Everyday Leadership Practices for Empowering Teams in a Complex World

By Nell Derick Debevoise


Hey there, fellow leaders! Today, let’s delve into a topic that’s more crucial now than ever: the profound impact of connecting our employees’ sense of purpose and their impact on the world to their work. In today’s complex and uncertain landscape, where global issues like climate change, social inequality, and public health crises loom large, it’s imperative that we empower our teams to find meaning and fulfillment in their work. Not because they’re demanding it, but because this connection to purpose builds motivation and energy, and thus capacity for achieving team goals.

Leaders that try to keep real life issues that employees care about out of the work place, because they’re ‘political’ or ‘irrelevant’ will inevitably suffer the distraction, disengagement, and disconnection of employees who feel they cannot bring their human concerns to work.

So, let’s explore three key takeaways that can transform your leadership approach and drive remarkable results, especially in the face of today’s challenges.

1. Foster Meaningful Connections in a Turbulent World:

Amidst the chaos and uncertainty of the modern world, it’s easy for employees to feel disconnected from their work and its broader implications. However, it’s during these challenging times that a sense of purpose becomes the most important: a beacon of hope amid tumult.

One specific practice to build connections is to start team meetings or project kick-offs by reminding everyone of the larger purpose behind their work. Take a few minutes to share stories or examples of how the team’s efforts are making a positive impact in addressing global issues. This simple behavior helps reinforce the connection between daily tasks and overarching goals, inspiring a sense of purpose and motivation among team members.

2. Empower Personal Growth in a Rapidly Evolving World:

In today’s fast-paced world, personal and professional growth are more important than ever. As leaders, we must provide our teams with opportunities to develop skills, pursue passions, and align their work with their personal values and aspirations.

Purposeful leaders empower their team’s personal growth by including career aspirations, interests, and development goals in their regular one-on-ones, as well as the more standard review of the person’s role and path at that company. Use these conversations to identify opportunities for skill development, mentorship, or involvement in projects that align with their passions and values. By actively supporting their personal growth journey, you not only enhance their engagement and satisfaction but also foster a culture of continuous learning and development within the team. While some leaders worry this opens the door to employees looking elsewhere or leaving, the opposite is true: it builds trust and loyalty.

3. Celebrate Impact and Recognition in a World Hungry for Hope:

In times of crisis and uncertainty, it’s easy to lose sight of the positive impact our work can have on the world. However, it’s precisely during these moments that celebrating impact and recognizing contributions becomes essential.

Try to incorporate regular “shout-outs” or appreciation moments into team meetings or virtual communication channels to celebrate examples of impact, whether within the team, organization, or more broadly in the community. Encourage team members to recognize and celebrate each other’s contributions, whether it’s a small win, a demonstration of leadership, or a gesture of support during challenging times. Also include ‘extra curricular’ activities that were impactful, like charitable activities, athletic achievements, or personal celebrations. By creating a culture of appreciation and recognition within and beyond the constraints of your work, you not only boost morale and motivation but also reinforce the connection between individual efforts and collective impact, inspiring hope and resilience within the team.

In each of these ways, as leaders navigating today’s uncertain and complex world, we have massive opportunity to empower our teams to find meaning and fulfillment in their work. By fostering meaningful connections, empowering personal growth, and celebrating impact and recognition through specific day-to-day behaviors, we can create workplaces where every individual feels inspired, valued, and empowered to make a difference.

The first step is taking the time to find out what it is that matters most to them. We have lots of tools and programs to help, but it can start with a simple question. And we know from experience, and research, that asking those questions have massive returns in terms of your team’s motivation, connection to the work, and engagement in your organization. So here’s to igniting the spark of purpose within each of our team members and unleashing their full potential, even in the face of today’s challenges!