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Purpose over Profit

Many companies appear to have forgotten the very purpose of their existence. Most employees therefore answer the question about the purpose of their employer with the apparently correct answer: “To make profit”. But profit is never an end in itself; rather, it is like the air we breathe to survive and yet our lives thankfully do not consist only of breathing. Profit is therefore only a necessary condition for the survival of the organization and the yardstick for properly fulfilling an important purpose for the customer.

Profit for a company is like oxygen for a person. If you don’t have enough of it, you’re out of the game. But if you think your life is about breathing, you’re really missing something.

Peter F. Drucker

Organizations that declare profit to be an end in itself should not complain about employees who are focused solely on their economic advantage. If there is no other orientation, they will maximize their individual bonus. This is a logical consequence where a higher purpose for orientation is missing or not sufficiently prominent. And so the unilateral focus of the organization on profit leads to the concept of the generally lazy employee, who needs to be bribed with money. But what else could motivate employees in this environment?

Profit is not the explanation, cause, or rationale of business behavior and business decisions, but rather the test of their validity.

Peter F. Drucker

Like a self-fulfilling prophecy, the behavior of the employees in such a meaningless organization confirms this concept of man. But the reason for this is not human nature, because the same employees are highly motivated in the club or church or other mainly purpose-driven organizations and often even without pay. The cause lies rather in an organization that celebrates the dance around the golden calf and has raised profit to an end in itself.

If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up the men to gather wood, divide the work, and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea.

antoine de saint-exupéry

Conversely, a good purpose can provide incredible inspiration for people and motivate them to peak performance. Daniel Pink therefore describes in his book “Drive” that people are primarily purpose-maximizers rather than profit maximizers. As social beings, people feel the need to be part of something bigger than themselves that outlasts their own finite existence. Good leadership therefore starts with that higher purpose.

New: The Book on the Manifesto for Human(e) Leadership

On the occasion of the first anniversary I published a detailed version of the Manifesto for Human(e) Leadership on Leanpub. I am looking forward to feedback and impulses on the one hand and, of course, to broad dissemination on the other. Please spread the word!

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Filed under: Leadership


Hi, I'm Marcus. I'm convinced that elephants can dance. Therefore, I accompany organizations on their way towards a more agile way of working. Since 2010 I regularly write about leadership, digitization, new work, agility, and much more in this blog. More about me.

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