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Rick Lash is senior client partner at Korn Ferry Hay Group. Peter Aceto is the former CEO of Tangerine Bank.

Having a strong purpose is a fundamental component to a happy, fulfilling life. People with a positive, engaging purpose tend to be more focused, optimistic and successful in what they do. They love going to work every day because they're doing work that is most meaningful to them and they feel they're working for an organization that is making a positive difference in society.

But many millennials report that they are experiencing a lack of purpose at work. Part of the reason is what Craig Ryan, director of social enterprise at the Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC), calls pervasive short-termism. "Companies that drive too quickly to targets create an imbalanced view of what value is." For many millennials, he says, there is a dismay with conventional businesses that only focus on driving profit to the exclusion of all else. Customer service reps are feeling pressured to sell financial products to customers who don't have a need; people hoard work or sales opportunities to meet their own numbers instead of collaborating and supporting each other.

Indeed, organizations with a strong purpose at their core actually make more money in the long term than those that are simply driven by financial targets. A study conducted by management consulting firm Korn Ferry Hay Group found that purpose-driven consumer companies achieved a compounded annual growth rate over five years of 9.85 per cent, compared to a rate of just 2.4 per cent for the whole S&P 500 Consumer Sector.

For many millennials, there is a core belief that business can be a positive force of good and that success is not just defined by profit. "We recognize that if you are not creating profit, you don't survive," says Joyce Sou of B Lab Canada, a non-profit that certifies organizations who meet rigorous standards of social and environmental performance, accountability and transparency. But the organizations that B Labs certify, like BDC, are more innovative – they consider the long-term vision and take a more holistic view of a business and state explicit goals that include making a positive impact on society, their employees, the community and the environment, in addition to making a profit. For these organizations, returning shareholder value is not their only priority.

People of all generations, but especially millennials, increasingly want to buy from businesses that are pursuing more than just profit. And they also want to work for them.

So how can millennials find more purpose when it can be challenging to discover it in their own organization? It starts by getting clarity of your own purpose:

  • Map your lifeline. What were the times in your life you felt most and least engaged? What events stand out? How did your most-engaging experiences shape you in terms of your beliefs and what you most value? Are there any patterns you see in the kinds of relationships and work you are most fulfilled by? Finally, ask yourself what contribution do you want to make in your life – what impact on others and the world do you most want to have?
  • Your five lives. Imagine you have the opportunity to live five other lives in addition to the life you are living. Forget about your current skills, money or lack of courage. Think big – describe what each life would look like in terms of what you would be doing, who would be with you and, most importantly, what is it about this life that brings you deep satisfaction?
  • Your legacy. The average life has approximately 25,000 days – how do you want to be remembered? We are all so busy these days that we forget to pause and consider what impact we want to have on others and what we want to leave behind. Ask yourself these questions: How do I want to be remembered? What can I leave behind that will outlast me? Is there anything important I’ve left undone?

In his book Leadership From The Inside Out, Korn Ferry senior partner Kevin Cashman says that our sense of purpose grows naturally throughout our lives in terms of service to ourselves, others and the world at large. Our core purpose is fluid and will adapt depending on our stage in life and the challenges we face. At times, our purpose is more centered around the "I" – defined in terms of our unique qualities and skills and the ability to get things done through our own efforts. As we take on greater responsibility for others, the "we" becomes more important – our purpose is more anchored to others and the people we care about and identity with. Still, at other times we define our purpose in terms of something much bigger than ourselves – making a difference for the organization, solving community or broader social issues – the existential "it" becomes more central to our purpose. Effective leaders at all levels demonstrate the ability to continually balance the "I", "we" and "it" in how they define their core purpose throughout their careers.

Clues to where your purpose lies may come from the themes revealed in answering the questions above. Of course, there is no right answer, but your responses should provide you with important clues to what you personally find most meaningful and fulfilling in your life.

When we feel purpose present in what we do, our physical, emotional and intellectual energy is aligned and focused. But when it is absent, exhaustion, frustration and disconnection make a permanent home. Purpose drives performance and is the source of natural energy that propels us forward, since it determines what we choose to devote our time to, and perhaps most importantly, it engages others to achieve important shared goals and make a difference.

Executives, educators and human resources experts contribute to the ongoing Leadership Lab series. Find more stories at and follow us @Globe_Careers.

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