Sense of Purpose Drives Successful Careers and Organizations

Aedhmar Hynes speaking at Future Leaders Showcase
Aedhmar Hynes speaking at Future Leaders Showcase

Text 100 CEO Aedhmar Hynes presented what many described as the equivalent of a Commencement address during last week’s fourth annual Future Leaders Showcase at DePaul University.

Well known for being an advocate and builder of purpose-driven organizations, Aedhmar’s passion is reflected in her remarks below:

A purpose defines the why of a company. Why it does business. The decisions it makes. An understanding of those decisions in the context of the marketplace and society.

It creates a company where stakeholders are treated as partners. Where “social responsibility” isn’t a department, but a core value. Where everyone from the CEO down understands that the value of the brand lies in how it acts, in whether what it does matches what it says.

In other words, its purpose is not to make a profit. Rather, it earns that profit by fulfilling its purpose in service to its customers and the larger community.  But why is this more important today than it’s ever been?  Well today we have an emerging generation of people who make conscious based decisions.  Will I buy a product from a company that manufactures its products in countries that have questionable labor laws?  Do I want to work in an organization that presents itself in one way but treats its employees and acts in a very different way?   Unlikely.

But what I’ve started to think about of late, and I wanted to talk to you about today is whether it’s possible to apply those same principles to yourself. To build a purpose-driven career – one that will be both fulfilling to you as an individual, and will help accomplish the purpose of whatever organization or company you join, tomorrow or two decades from now.

I believe everyone should act with purpose in every aspect of their lives. Whatever you do should be an extension of who you are, and who you want to become. Wherever you choose to work and apply your education, talents and creativity should be an extension of that individual purpose…align with your values… so that you do something you believe in.

I believe having a purpose-driven career is important in any profession.

In communications – I believe a purpose-driven career is essential.

Because as communicators, you have a special opportunity. An opportunity that did not exist even ten years ago.

You will be in a position to be the most important and powerful agent of change wherever you work. You will have that power not just on the inside of your organization, or in the marketplace, but you will have the power to affect the society we all share.

Purpose-driven tweets trend thanks to #PRADFutureLeaders crowd

Purpose-driven tweets trend thanks to #PRADFutureLeaders crowd

I realize that may seem an extraordinary statement…or you may think I’m giving the usual rhetoric about the great place you’re about to assume in the world. But the fact is, this is the most extraordinary time in history to be in our profession. Thanks to how technology has changed the way we communicate, what we do is now of paramount importance inside every organization…institution…or government agency. With the rise of social media, the Internet, YouTube, mobile devices, universal Wi-Fi…we can get information or engage in conversations with anyone, anytime…across the street or on the other side of the world…in an instant. We are able to create new and vibrant communities that transcend physical boundaries…and those communities command our trust, guide our decisions, drive our purchases, and form our opinions about the world.

Because of the importance of communications overall, we now serve an indispensable function in every organization. We no longer are “media relations” or “push” advertising. We are now at the nexus of the conversations that matter, inside and outside the organization, and we have a powerful seat at the leadership table. We are in a position to shape the organization’s culture and guide its actions…to become, if you like, a conscience as well as a communicator.

Something else has changed. Ten years ago, if you wanted to have a purpose-driven career as a communicator, one that gave you a chance to change the world, you probably would have opted to work for a non-profit or an NGO. You can still pursue that path, and it is an honorable and important one.

But today you have an even greater opportunity to affect that change working at a for-profit company.

Why do I say that? Because today corporations play a powerful role in shaping our society. They can have a positive effect on society – or a negative one. But either will greatly overshadow that of organizations outside that corporate world. Helping to shape the culture of a corporation through communications…using the power we have and the knowledge we possess…and doing so guided by your purpose…is incredibly powerful. It is the difference between shaking your fist at a problem, and having your hands on the levers of change.

Do you want to fight the phenomenon of “fake news” and restore trust in independent sources of information? Then go to work for Facebook, the most popular place by far for people to get their news and information, and help shape its culture to support truth and facts.

Do you want to help find the cure for cancer? Then go to work for IBM and help guide its culture as it develops artificial intelligence and machine learning technology that can be a fundamental research tool in medicine.

Do you want to tackle the problem of affordable housing? Go to work for Autodesk and build a culture where the 3D design software it makes for architects also can help design highly efficient, cost-effective and inviting homes and apartment buildings.

Do you want to fight income inequality? Put your skills to work at Chase Bank and contribute to a culture that uses technology to build financial inclusion, fairness and access to credit for all so people can build a business, send their kids to school, buy a home, and pursue their dreams.

Even as I highlight the enormous potential you will have in your careers, I also want to sound a warning.

I’m sure many of you, having spent so much time on your education until now, are eager to begin or resume your careers. You’re ready to take on big roles, big responsibilities in the working world. The kind that demand enormous amounts of time and focus.

Yet, while that may seem like the road to success, there’s an enormous risk as well. Spending all your energy on your work/life mix may mean you never discover and follow your true purpose. Because none of us, at age 20, or 30, or 40, is ever done learning.

One of the most important things you can do in creating your purpose is to step out of your career self. Do it early. Do it often. Do it with the same vigor you devote to your career. Because when you take time out to learn…serve on a board…do volunteer work…travel to other places and experience other cultures…you will develop the perspective you need to understand…refine…and fulfill your purpose. I remember early in my career I had a blinding ambition to travel, which took me to remote parts of the world and helped me to understand people and cultures in a way that books never would.  When I settled in the US, I found ways to get involved in The Aspen Institute, to sit of the board of a no-for-profit fighting third world poverty and recently I joined the Advisory Council of the MIT Media Lab.  And while many people advised me that there will never be enough time to run a business, raise a family and get involved in these kinds of endeavors, I will tell you that it is this that made me a better mother and a better CEO. This is how you will come to understand, if you’ll allow me to say it, the meaning of life. Of why we are here.

Aedhmar Hynes recognizes purpose-driven students, faculty and pros at Future Leaders Showcase
Aedhmar Hynes recognizes purpose-driven students, faculty and pros at Future Leaders Showcase

It will imbue you with the understanding of people and their needs, with the kind of vision you need to develop an ethical foundation for your purpose. The more experiences you have, and the more varied they are…the more they test your values and commitment…the more you will strengthen that ethical foundation.

Again, while I believe we all should act ethically, for communicators ethics is of immense importance. Because of the power we have inside organizations, because we are the closest thing an organization has to a conscience, a strong sense of ethics must be at the core of your purpose.

Finally, while you may leave here today with a strong sense of purpose, don’t rest easy. Think not only about who you are today, but also who you want to become. Think about your younger self meeting your older self.. Who will you have become?  what is the legacy you want to leave of yourself…for your children…for the world the next generation will inhabit and the generations after that. And always, always strive to become that person.

So, when you do arrive there, many years from now, you can look back and say that you didn’t get there by accident. You arrived on purpose…because you chose today to build your career, and yourself, with a sense of purpose.

Good luck, and from today forward, make your career and your life a purpose-driven one.  –Aedhmar Hynes

The Future Leaders Showcase celebrates graduating MA students in the Public Relations and Advertising Program at DePaul University. More than 200 PR/AD professionals attended this year’s event at tech incubator 1871. Aedhmar’s speech is available via live streaming on the Culpwrit Facebook page.


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