Creating a sense of purpose through the triple bottom-line

According to Nick Craig and Scott Snook in their recent Harvard Business Review (HBR) article ‘From Purpose to Impact’, fewer than 20% of leaders have a strong sense of their individual purpose and even fewer can distill their purpose into a concrete statement. As of Monday, the members of my Vistage advisory board are not guilty of these particular leadership sins. Indeed, they have gone one step further than writing down their courageous goals by sharing them with each other and challenging themselves to take the first step towards their achievement.

It was fascinating to hear these goals shared between the eight CEOs, MDs and business owners that currently make up the advisory board. Whilst each represented a different business sector, their goals shared that ‘wow’ factor that distinguishes a courageous goal from its poorer relation; the tired and unimaginative SMART goal. Furthermore, these courageous goals were expressed in terms of the triple bottom line  – a mind-set that challenges leaders to measure success not just through the financial bottom line of revenue, cash and profit but also through the people impact of business and the potential for business to give something back to the wider community. The triple bottom-line is often summarised as profit, people and planet. Let’s consider some examples of courageous goals that could be set under each heading:-


  • I want to win the entrepreneur of the year award in 2016
  • I want to be market leader in my sector with eight out of the top ten global corporates as my clients


  • I want to open a new office space that wins an award for the impact it has on employee engagement and morale
  • I want to be at home each working day to have breakfast and evening meal with my wife and children


  • I want to write a book about my profession that receives one million likes on Facebook
  • I want to set up a not-for-profit company that is focussed upon saving the planet from climate change

Courageous goals that embrace the triple bottom-line drive a sense of purpose in a business leader’s life – a sense of purpose that is systemic i.e. one that goes beyond the exclusive optimisation of short-term financial gain to craft a broader vision that is inclusive, sustainable and inspiring. This is not an entirely altruistic outlook since as Craig and Snook comment in their HBR article – ‘business experts make the case that (a sense of) purpose is key to exceptional performance, psychologists describe it as the pathway to greater well-being and doctors have even found that people with purpose in their lives are less prone to disease.’

Mark Twain said ‘The two most important days of your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why’. Setting courageous goals for the triple bottom-line is a simple and powerful process that can bring that second important day much closer. Working with executive coaches, mentors or confidential peer groups is a great opportunity for leaders to take a step back and ensure they are role-modelling purpose-driven leadership. I look forward with great anticipation as the members of my Vistage advisory board translate their courageous goals into concrete plans and specific next steps. I have no doubt they have embarked on an exciting journey. Watch this space!

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