Many of us seek to start the New Year with a sense of purpose.

Will Bosanko, Strategy Partner, Brandpie

In our personal lives, it’s a concept we understand well. We set a long-term goal. We pursue activities that contribute to it on a more regular basis. We invest more time and energy into the practices we know truly matter. Transforming ourselves for the better.

In short: we focus our minds and bodies on what we believe will drive meaningful change.

But the need for a clear purpose is no less crucial in our professional lives. In fact, for business leaders – it’s increasingly critical.

Why, you ask?

In recent years, business purpose has become a recognized strategic tool and value creator. Brandpie’s latest CEO Purpose Report – a study with over 1,000 global CEOs – revealed that purpose is considered the number one driver of long-term value within their organisations. Furthermore, 62% of CEOs said they now see purpose as a top priority.

Yet, despite the growing momentum, many leaders are still struggling to capture its transformative potential. Often, those who have a purpose statement have zero idea about how to use it. Some banish it to the brand and communications department. Others mistakenly see it as a peripheral ESG or social good initiative — simply ‘checking a box’ for prying eyes.

So, as a fresh year dawns, it’s time for leaders to put true purpose into action.

The kind of purpose that is challenging, measurable, and builds a more sustainable business model. That takes your business beyond the sole pursuit of profit, and towards the creation of value for all stakeholders. Enabling you and your people to focus, step forward, and navigate the year ahead with intention and conviction.

Here are the 3 big opportunities I see for purpose-driven leaders in 2023:

  1. Clarity

At its most effective, purpose helps leaders to clarify one thing: why.

Why your business exists. Why you should make one decision over another. Why you should invest, or not invest. Why your products or services are uniquely placed to respond to a particular world need. Why the boldest and brightest talent should come and join you. Why?

The true power of purpose lies in its ability to provide both you and your people with a compelling answer.

Against any adversity or opportunity, a well-defined and challenging business purpose delivers a sharp point of focus. A super-compass that guides strategic choices and sets solid priorities. In a recent survey, nearly three-quarters of 1,000 global CEOs agreed their purpose directly influences the majority of their decision-making.

And this demystifying effect goes far beyond the boardroom, too. Purpose gives everyone, at every level, a visible north star to work towards.

Even better, when supported by a clear ambition and focused strategy, it builds widespread confidence around your shared direction of travel: detailing why the business exists; what it aims to achieve; and how it’s going to get there. Magic.

  • 2. Credibility

Defining a clear and compelling purpose is one thing. Living and breathing it is another.

Alas, the dreaded ‘purpose gap’ (the disconnect between a purpose statement, and any tangible evidence of it being put into practice) continues to widen.

Whether for green-washing, pride-washing, or purpose-washing, businesses in recent years have been fiercely called out for failing to support their purpose-driven claims with tangible action. 

To be a purpose-driven leader and truly inspire your people requires action. The proof must be in the pudding.

If in need of an exemplar, look no further than Patagonia. Last year, founder Yvon Chouinard transferred ownership of the business – valued at no less than $3 billion – to a specially-designed trust, retaining its independence and using all future profit to fund various planet-saving initiatives. “Instead of ‘going public’, you could say we’re ‘going purpose’,” he said.

Moving forward, leaders will need to walk the walk and make purpose similarly fundamental to their practices — albeit in their own way. 

Remember: embracing and activating purpose is not about chasing the latest, topical endorphin hit with a campaign, nor temporarily painting your logo with a Pride flag in June. It’s about making difficult, long-term decisions that prioritise action in service of something greater — and accepting the associated sacrifices that come with it.

  • 3. Collaboration

A problem shared is a problem halved, right?

Well, it certainly seems so.

As new global challenges arise in 2023, anticipate the continued rise and flourishing of business ecosystems that are guided by purpose. That is, organisations working together towards a shared goal or outcome — one that seeks to create value for all stakeholders, over shareholder value alone.

Just look at the COVID-19 pandemic or the continued climate emergency. Few businesses have been able to respond, innovate and scale effectively around these global challenges alone.

To survive and thrive, meaningful collaboration in pursuit of shared objectives will be key. A new survey showed that over a third of CEOs already use purpose to identify potential partners and suppliers with shared values and commitments.

This year, use purpose as the jump-off point for curating and orchestrating your own team of Avengers. If you’ve successfully connected what your business does to the needs and challenges of the world, you’ll be able to spot others who should credibly join you on your mission — and, crucially, contribute the missing capabilities you need to get there. 

So, as January kicks into gear and we look to the road ahead, the obstacles and opportunities of 2023 remain largely unknown. But for leaders looking to step forward with confidence, one thing is for certain: purpose is no longer a nice-to-have. It’s an imperative.