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Wisdom Of The Next Generation

Tuesday afternoon, I spent a couple of hours with fourteen emerging leaders at Popeyes. This is a group of young leaders who have organized themselves to connect with each other and grow their leadership capabilities. They are primarily Millennials who have been with Popeyes in office or field positions for 2-4 years. I was excited to meet with them and see what they would teach me about leadership.

Ahead of the meeting, we read a book called Activate Leadership: Aspen Truths to Empower Millennial Leaders, by Jon Mertz. And then we came together and discussed a wide range of leadership topics.

When you sit around and chat with this generation of leaders, you see many positive traits – they are innovative, entrepreneurial, fearless, comfortable with technology, and very social. But beyond that, I see one characteristic that I think will be game-changing within the workplace.

They have PURPOSE.

In the book we read together, the author says: “Millennials want to be part of big change.” They are turning away from big business to non-profits and entrepreneurial opportunities. “This drive for big impact also leads to newer business models that weave purpose and profit.” Whole Foods. Tom Shoes. Warby Parker eye glasses. Starbucks.

They want to do work that matters. They want their lives to make a difference. And they don’t want to work for you or your organization, if you don’t have purpose.

So do you know your personal purpose for work? Do you know the purpose for your business?

The people you lead want to know why you came to work today. They want both the company and you to know the answer. If you can’t explain how the enterprise or you personally are doing important work, they don’t want to work for you. It’s just that simple.

I could not be more excited about this development.

At Popeyes, for several years we have had a purpose statement for the enterprise: “to inspire servant leaders to achieve superior results.” Every team member goes to a class called “Journey to Personal Purpose.” We challenge them to examine their life experiences, their values, and their strengths – and then ask them to craft a statement of purpose for why they work.

I won’t lie. Some people don’t enjoy this workshop – and they treat it like a mindless exercise required by their boss. And they miss the entire point. They go back to their desks with no answer to the question of why they came to work today. They are unchanged – plodding forward without a purpose.

But then there are others who with open minds explore their lives, their values, and their strengths. They dig deep to figure out how they are wired and how they can best contribute. They find a purpose for themselves that is true and meaningful, and changes the way they think about work. They say “this workshop was life changing.” Then they go back to their jobs with an entirely different perspective.

Watching this experiment at Popeyes, I have observed the impact of personal purpose on work:

  1. People who know why they came to work show up energized, focused, and ready to contribute.
  2. People who know why they came to work seek out new challenges, new roles, and new ways to add value to the organization. Many have changed departments or roles to challenge themselves and get more aligned with their purpose.
  3. People who know why they came to work are at peace with their jobs. They don’t exhibit the stress, the complaining, and the conflicted soul that we see in those without a purpose.
  4. People who know why they came to work prosper. They perform.

So when the Millennial team member comes in your office and asks you why you work – will you have an answer? Will you be able to explain the purpose of the organization and how you personally connect to that purpose?

If not, it will only be a matter of time until they move on to another job – or start a company that has a purpose.

Personally, I could not be more optimistic about the future. I believe work is important and purposeful. It is a place where we have the opportunity to touch and shape lives for the better. It matters.

And the next generation knows it.

Will you serve them well?

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