I spent nine hours crafting a metrics plan for a job-purposing project. The client responded that it was so “random and disjointed” that it gave her a headache.
I typically think, if not say, something like “the heck with you” to criticism like this. (Were I capable of profanity, my retort would have more zing, but we all have our limitations.) This time, however, I calmly asked the client what was wrong with my work, laughed over how badly I misunderstood her assignment, offered to send her aspirin and delivered a strong plan within two days.
I found it easy to respond productively and without drama to the above criticism because its source, Gwen Migita, exemplifies job purposing. That is, she routinely pursues contributions to others or societal causes as part of her job.
As Global Lead of Social Impact, Equity and Sustainability at Caesars Entertainment, Gwen has led efforts that invite security staff to help victims of sex trafficking escape their awful lot, housekeepers to collect partially used soap that is sterilized and then distributed to families at risk of dying from preventable diseases, managers to learn to treat employees of all backgrounds with dignity and respect, and marketers to promote environmental conservation and gender equality in their campaigns. Thanks in large part to Gwen, almost half of Caesars employees enjoy purposed jobs.
All this job purposing makes it more likely that I and others will react productively, as opposed to defensively, to Gwen’s negative feedback. Why? Because we know her criticism isn’t personal. We don’t hear a personal attack. We hear a course correction on the path toward achieving a compelling vision.
As much as I promote compassion in the workplace, leaders can’t be soft and sweet all the time. Every effective leader needs to deliver unpleasant messages, take hard stands and otherwise set aside their empathy for the sake of effectiveness. Ironically, leaders who have a history of caring for others and for societal causes have an advantage when having to be harsh: People are more likely to follow their direction. It’s simply easier to accept a stern correction from someone who is trying to help victims of sex trafficking or make the workplace more just than from someone who is vying for a promotion.
The job-purposing advantage is so powerful that, on average, leaders who job purpose earn higher status and greater respect, are more likely to be elected, lead their teams to higher performance and generate financial returns that are 42 percent higher than the market. Gwen is a case in point.
As a consultant, roughly a dozen poor souls manage me in any given year. Most of these client relationships span five or more years and more than a dozen projects. I witness not only who elicits the best work from me, but who earns the respect of their team, who progresses in their career, and who thrives over the long term. In other words, I’ve become a laboratory on managerial effectiveness. In my 20 years of consulting work, I’ve experienced no better a leader than Gwen. While others are stymied by barriers, Gwen somehow smashes through them without ever raising her voice. Or maybe she glides above them. Let’s just say that she routinely turns limited resources into impressive results.
I know my esteem for Gwen seems a bit over the top, but most people familiar with her work are similarly awestruck. One of her team members told me, “I think she’s from the future.” Another said, “I marvel over Gwen’s quiet genius almost every time I see her.” Conferences clamor for her to speak. Harvard and Accenture have written up her work.
Gwen has a full complement of leadership strengths, but research suggests that the practice of job purposing has significantly contributed to her exceptional results. All leaders might benefit from adopting Gwen’s perspective: “Leadership that doesn’t improve the world, or at least some sliver of it, is not true leadership.”
 Charlie L. Hardy and Mark Van Vugt, “Nice Guys Finish First: The Competitive Altruism Hypothesis,” Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 32, (2006): 1402–1413; Robb Willer, “Groups Reward Individual Sacrifice: The Status Solution to the Collective Action Problem,” American Sociological Review 74, (2009): 23-43; Ashley Harrell, “Competition for Leadership Promotes Contributions to Collective Action,” Social Forces Advance online publication, (2018); Ashley Harrell and Brent Simpson, “The Dynamics of Prosocial Leadership: Power and Influence in Collective Action Groups,” Social Forces 94, (2016): 1283–1308; EY, “Purpose-driven leadership,” EY, 2018.