Why a Core Purpose Is the Foundation of Your Career

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Do you want to take your career to the next level? Do you have a core purpose?

Your core purpose is your overarching goal for your career and the “why” behind everything you do in your leadership journey. In Discover Your True North, Bill George examines why a core purpose is important for those looking for a management position in their career.

Continue reading to learn how to identify your purpose and set your career on the right path.

Your Core Purpose

George asserts that throughout your career, your core purpose will help guide you when making decisions and motivate you when you’re experiencing challenges. In other words, it’s something you can refer to and remind yourself of the ultimate goal you’re working toward. Without a core purpose, George warns, you risk ending up in an unfulfilling career because you chased things like a higher salary and fancy possessions instead of following your true passion. 

(Shortform note: Although George focuses on the individual benefits of identifying a core purpose, many experts suggest that having a core purpose has company-level benefits as well. In The Culture Code, Daniel Coyle describes two main benefits of a purpose-driven company. He says that a core purpose increases the quality of work because employees are more motivated to work toward a meaningful and unified goal, and it increases employees’ rate of learning because they recognize the importance of what they’re doing. On the other hand, not having a core purpose can lead to lower performance (due to a lack of motivation) and inconsistent decision-making that doesn’t align with the long-term mission.)

George says that no one can determine your core purpose for you. To identify your unique core purpose, start by reflecting on your life story and your biggest challenges (what George calls “crucibles”). George found through his interviews that many of the world’s successful business leaders were shaped by their life experiences and setbacks, which they channeled into a passion to pursue a meaningful goal. When you reflect on your own core purpose, these experiences could include experiences from your childhood or even recent events that impacted your priorities and vision for yourself. 

(Shortform note: George suggests that your core purpose may not emerge until later in life, since big life changes—like the death of a loved one or a major illness—may change your outlook and priorities. However, others disagree on when people can find their purpose and whether it can change. For example, in Find Your Why, Simon Sinek, David Mead, and Peter Docker say that your “Why” (a core belief that inspires your work) is fixed by the time you’re in your twenties—even if you haven’t articulated it yet. The authors contend that while life events may temporarily distract you from your purpose or challenge you to reevaluate it, they don’t change your purpose.) 

In one example of someone using their life story to define their core purpose, George describes how the early experiences of Howard Schultz—the former CEO of Starbucks—helped him identify his vision for his career. When he was a young child, his family struggled financially when his father was injured and lost both his job and health insurance. At this time, his mother was also pregnant, and they had no savings to cover expenses. 

Experiencing the precarity of poverty and seeing his father’s shame over his blue-collar job inspired Schultz’s core purpose—to create his own company where the employees would feel respected, and even part-time employees would have access to company-sponsored health insurance.

Recent Criticisms of Schultz’s Labor Practices

While Schultz has made efforts to provide substantial benefits to Starbucks employees in alignment with his core purpose, his recent actions opposing Starbucks unions may conflict with his core purpose of respecting and supporting all employees. 

With Schultz as CEO, Starbucks started providing health insurance to part-time employees beginning in 1988. Schultz also expanded health care coverage to include domestic partners of employees. 

However, since Starbucks stores started unionizing in 2021, critics have accused Schultz of illegal, union-busting tactics to prevent workers from forming unions and hinder their efforts to collectively negotiate for things like guaranteed hours and protected benefits. Examples of Starbucks’s alleged union-busting tactics include increasing wages for non-union members and firing employees involved in unionizing. Overall, the Starbucks union has filed over 500 charges of unfair labor practices

Schultz—who has been the CEO of Starbucks off and on in recent years before stepping down again in early 2023—says unions interfere with the company’s direct relationship with employees. Others argue that opposing unions takes away workers’ ability to protect their benefits and give honest feedback without retaliation.
Why a Core Purpose Is the Foundation of Your Career

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Like what you just read? Read the rest of the world's best book summary and analysis of Bill George's "Discover Your True North" at Shortform.

Here's what you'll find in our full Discover Your True North summary:

  • Why being true to yourself is more important than having talent or charm
  • Guidelines anyone can follow to become a leader in their organization
  • How to identify your purpose and ethics based on your unique experiences

Katie Doll

Somehow, Katie was able to pull off her childhood dream of creating a career around books after graduating with a degree in English and a concentration in Creative Writing. Her preferred genre of books has changed drastically over the years, from fantasy/dystopian young-adult to moving novels and non-fiction books on the human experience. Katie especially enjoys reading and writing about all things television, good and bad.

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