What Drives Performance

For the last couple of years, I’ve had the privilege of speaking to a variety of different organizations around the country and in Canada.

All of them, like all of us, have been trying to figure out how to move forward in light of the challenges of the past three years.

Each week, leadership teams are wrestling with an endless array of issues both internally and externally. In fact, it seems like the agenda for most leadership team meetings could be summed up with this question:

“What will drive performance in a post-covid, zoom-office, quiet-quitting, ultra-sensitive, politically-charged, resignation-nation, Google-review world?”

Whew, leading in today’s world isn’t for the faint of heart.

It’s why so many leaders have told me over the last two years, “It feels like we’re starting all over.”

When I hear that statement, I respond by saying, “What would you do if you were? Figure that out and you’ll figure out your way.”

Ultimately, in my visits with leaders over the last couple of years, we have started with and worked through this one simple but foundational question:

“What do we want to be known FOR?”

This is a question of purpose, and it’s the way forward. Here’s why: In today’s world, purpose and profit travel together.

Purpose fuels Profit. Profit fuels Purpose.

To see the content I take leadership teams through,


I saw this during a visit last month with United Community Bank’s leadership team in Greenville, South Carolina. Lynn Harton, the CEO, had read my book and invited me to speak at their annual retreat. (By the way, have you been to Greenville lately? It’s amazing!) Before I spoke, I had the opportunity to hear Lynn address the team. In his talk, Lynn made a statement that I wanted to stand up and applaud: “People driven by purpose drive performance.”

I repeated that statement over and over again in my own talk that day. You can’t have “people driven by purpose” without knowing what you’re FOR. In fact, if you were starting all over (and in many ways we all are), you would start here, by recasting, repeating, reframing purpose.

Indra Nooyi, the former CEO of PepsiCo, called it “Performance with Purpose.” “The goal was to deliver great financial returns,” she said, “with three additional imperatives: to nourish humanity and the communities in which we live, to replenish our environment, and to cherish our people.”

In some ways, that sounds like a non-profit leader, and that’s sort of the point. Often, the only asset non-profit leaders have is purpose, but it’s the competitive distinction in any organization. It’s why I often encourage leaders I work with in the for-profit world to begin to think more like a non-profit leader.

Sure, when a business leader starts talking like this, the skeptics show up. As one skeptic asked Ms. Nooyi when she launched “Performance with Purpose”, “Who do you think you are? Mother Teresa?”

Over the years, I’ve encountered my own array of skeptics and critics. Usually, it’s just a sign you’re on the right track. And even if you’re wrong, you went down swinging toward a higher, loftier goal of adding purpose to the lives of people, many of whom are quietly, desperately seeking it.

But don’t forget, purpose has an amazing track record of delivering performance. The reason for this is that purpose connects to the hearts and souls of people. Show me an organization that hasn’t forgotten the humanity of the business, and more often than not, I’ll show you outstanding performance.

Ultimately, it’s not about WHAT drives performance. It’s always about WHO drives performance. As Lynn said, “People driven by purpose drive performance.”

FOR You,
Jeff Henderson

The FOR Book on Audible

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