by Zach Mercurio, author of “The Invisible Leader: Transform Your Life, Work, and Organization with the Power of Authentic Purpose”
You’ve heard it all before. Good entrepreneurs have discipline. They are risk-takers, adaptable, persistent, and self-motivated. They don’t fear failure and are tenacious.
Yet there is a quieter characteristic that separates great entrepreneurs from good ones.
Why? Because purpose asks the questions: Of what use are you to the world? What is your reason for existence?
It is other-centered by default, which is why purpose is the activator of empathy.
Empathy, in turn, is the engine of human problem discovery and solving. And human problem solving is what entrepreneurs who have a long-term impact do best.
Take SpaceX’s Elon Musk, who after leaving PayPal said:
“Going from PayPal, I thought: ‘Well, what are some of the other problems that are likely to most affect the future of humanity?’ Not from the perspective, ‘What’s the best way to make money?”
Or TOMS shoe company founder Blake Mycoskie, who, on a trip to Argentina in 2006 met a woman in a café who was volunteering for a shoe drive.
Following that conversation, Blake noticed how many shoeless children there were. He noted the blisters, sores, and infections they suffered. Endless kids, from toddlers on up, it seemed, ran around Argentine streets barefoot.
He wrote later,
“I wanted to do something about it but what could I do?”
Blake’s question grew from empathy. And the answer to his question became his purpose. It was the impetus for TOMS – now valued at over $625 million. More importantly, it sparked a whole new generation of social entrepreneurs.
This “sustainability of impact” is what separates entrepreneurs like Musk and Mycoskie. An entrepreneur’s purpose lives on long after the entrepreneur.
That’s why a sense of purpose may be the most important characteristic of successful entrepreneurs.
Here are three ways to start shifting to a purposeful entrepreneur mindset:
1. Think less about solutions and more about your problem.
Psychologically, people care more about the human problem you solve than how you solve it. If you spend all your time optimizing solutions – your product or service – you neglect one of the key motivators of both employees and investors: Your purpose.
Someone will always copy what you do and how you do it. They can’t copy why you exist.
Find ways to bring the human problem you solve to the center of your internal narrative. It will pay off with more committed people and ultimately results.
2. Cultivate curiosity.
Curiosity about other people’s lives stokes empathy. Some ways to develop curiosity are to reward your team for asking better questions. Try changing your routines, or spend a day with a person who might need your product or service.
Passionate curiosity leads to compassionate empathy.
3. Surround yourself with empathizers.
Finally, we are products of the people around us, so create a community of empathetic people. Often, entrepreneurs surround themselves with activators – people who complement skills.
It is just as important to make sure your team cares about the human being at the end of your supply or service chain.
That person, after all, is your purpose.
Zach Mercurio is an international speaker, trainer, and purpose and meaningful work consultant. He is the founder and author of PurposeSpeaks.com, and a researcher and adjunct faculty at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, CO. He is the author of “The Invisible Leader”.