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The words “purpose” and “meaning” are used interchangeably at work and while they are similar there are differences between the two. Leaders have a unique responsibility to help create both of those things for their employees. In today’s article I want to provide a framework that distinguishes between these things and then provide some specific action items for what leaders can do to create both.

But before talking about HOW to do that let’s first start with what these things actually are. In my previous book, The Future Leader, I developed the following framework.

Job: This is what you got hired to do. Whether it is writing code, handling customer service issues, or selling.

Purpose: Purpose bridges your work and its impact on customers, employees, or the world. Many employees struggle with their purpose because organizations are so focused on completing tasks and projects that employees don’t see what happens because of their work.

Impact: Impact is what happens from your purpose. Your purpose in customer service is to resolve issues and improve customers’ lives. But is that the actual impact that you are having? Your purpose is about the potential, but the impact is about reality. You want your impact to be greater than or equal to your purpose. But unfortunately, many employees don’t know the impact of their work.

Meaning: Meaning is subjective and unique to each of us. It’s about why we do something and the feeling we get from doing it. If you write code, you might get meaning from working on complex problems or challenges. If you’re in sales, you might get meaning from building relationships.

A great starting point is to be able to distinguish between the four segments above and to understand that they are all connected to each other.

In the rest of the article I’m going to explain HOW leaders can actually help employees discover their purpose, identify their impact, and find their meaning.

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