Purpose and Intention: Are They Identical?

leadership purpose and intentionRecently I gave a talk to about 40 entrepreneurs in Seattle on Intentional Culture for Small Business Week. I was asked the question if “purpose” and “intention” are one and the same in a business. It was an interesting question and I had to think about it for a second but then came away with an emphatic “no.”

Here’s why – purpose is the reason or “why” the business exists. A purpose is the global overarching reason an organization does what it does. Businesses that do not have a clear purpose, meaning a strong “why” they exist, (other than to make money), do not resonate with today’s workforce, clients and partners as well as those that do. Don’t get me wrong, making money is a good thing. It’s just not necessarily a compelling enough reason to join, buy from, or partner with an organization, particularly if there is a direct competitor that does have a clear purpose. The clear purpose is much more powerful and if it really describes the “why” and everybody gets it, the ability to engage others is so much easier. Making money is usually a result or outcome of a compelling purpose coupled with a good execution plan.

Intention is a focus of attention on making something happen. Each day we wake up with an “intention” to do, say or behave a certain way. It often includes getting results or achieving goals, but it’s not our overarching purpose. Intention is a way to get there. It’s a way to manifest the “beliefs” that drive the purpose or a means to an end.

To illustrate, my purpose is “to make a difference with people who care.” This can show up in multiple ways. I choose to work with CEOs of small to mid-sized businesses and I only work with those who “care” and have a larger purpose. I work with Social Venture Partners because they care about topics close to my heart: education, families and the environment. I work with The Nature Conservancy for the same reason. The care about saving the environment and doing good for our generation and those to follow.

My intention each day is to manifest my purpose in some way, (and some days I don’t come close!) But, because I have my intention, I’m more likely to stay on course and get there vs. not. Purpose is the why and intention is the how, if you want to think of it that way.

It’s not important that you agree with my definitions or viewpoint, what is important is that you define your purpose and then put some intention behind it for your business, and your life. You’ll be glad you did.