How to Write a Meaningful Purpose Statement in Five Steps

Marcia Kent Culture, Leadership

Have you ever wondered what makes a purpose statement meaningful? How do you make it memorable? Why are some so compelling that it creates a call to action?

Purpose statements, also known as manifestos, can be inspiring. I remember the energy that Jerry Maguire poured into his manifesto, which was a game changer! One of my favorites is the Holstee Manifesto on “Life”. Every time I read it, I get inspired, take notice, and make conscious choices. It’s that powerful.

Purpose statements are used by political parties, clubs, organizations and individuals to create action. It is a public declaration or statement of ideas and intentions. Wikipedia’s definition adds that a manifesto is created through consensus and “promotes a new idea with prescriptive notions” for agreed upon behaviors. At the Center for Values-Driven Leadership, we believe that purpose statements, like values themselves, should promote the common good and be positive, desirable, and worthwhile for all involved.

Editor’s note: To our surprise, this article has become one of our most read. We’re glad so many people find it useful. Please note, however, that we are unable to provide individual advice on drafting manifestos. If you are interested in our consulting services, please see Programs > Consulting.

At the heart of the Center for Values-Driven Leadership‘s program is the tenet that what people do and what people think matters. This program brings together executives, entrepreneurs and forward thinkers in leadership and organizational development to create a unique learning environment. So it came as no surprise that our faculty would be true to their values on collaboration and charge us with the task of creating a purpose statement for our cohort of executive doctoral students.

We worked in small groups and came up with ideas for our statement and then shared them with the group at large. A member of the faculty facilitated the discussion while another member wrote down our ideas on a white board. A few students volunteered to create a statement based on the collection of ideas. Once created, the manifesto was sent to the entire class to review and provide input. Every person in our class had an active role in the process.

Our experience offers a model for developing your own manifesto. Here are 5 steps for creating a meaningful purpose statement that reflects your beliefs, values, and sage wisdom.

  1. Have a Meaningful Concept.

A sure way to get a clear concept about your purpose statement is to start with meaningful questions.

  • What do you want your legacy (as an individual, group or organization) to be?
  • What gives your life purpose and meaning?
  • What types of actions are aligned with your values?
  • How do you want to show up in the world?
  • What do you want to accomplish in your life?
  • What are you willing to do to achieve those accomplishments?

The answers to those questions are the stuff that purpose statements are made of! They are thought provoking and get to the heart of the matter. Those answers will help you clarify the main concept of your statement.

Listen to your heart, and invite your trusted teammates into the process as well. Think about what you know to be true based on your values and life experiences. That is where you can start to get clarity on the concept of your statement. 

  1. Create Inspiration.

In his famous speech that inspired hundreds of thousands, Martin Luther King Jr., said, “I have a dream.” He said it with emotion, with conviction and with purpose. He did not say, “I have a strategic plan.” If he had, it probably would not have moved people in the same way.

Use words that elicit imagination and create a sense of action. Find words that encourage people to dig deeper, connect with their aspirations and play with their passion. Select words that cause one to pause and think for a moment about the legacy they want to create. Consider metaphors, alliteration, or other poetic language.

Sometimes the best way to create inspiration is to go out and get inspired. Browse through a book of inspiring quotes. Watch an inspiring movie. Think about people you admire and respect. Check out Foundation for a Better Life for inspiring stories. The bottom line is you need to find words that lift one’s spirits, engage the heart and emotionally move you. Seek out words and phrases that make you want to lean in so your higher self can make values-driven and conscious choices.

  1. Be Concise.

Less is more. When writing a purpose statement, use words that are strong, bold and fierce. Get straight to the point. Be provocative with your grammar and with the positive vision of the future you create.

A well written statement is crisp and sharp. The focus is clear and there is exactness in the intention. The meaning and purpose are unmistakable.

If you have statements with too many words, ask yourself what is the most compelling part of the message? What do want I to have stand out? Once that has been identified, let go of any extra words that are not essential to the core.

  1. Build Consensus.

If you are planning to use this document for your team, be sure to get their input. Plan time for a brainstorming session and get ideas from everyone. Ask people to think about the core values and behaviors they want reflected in their statement. Be sure to follow up with a final draft and ask for their input again.

  1. Create a Community and Spark a Connection.

Share your purpose statement with people as a way to create a connection to it. Build a community around it and give people permission to support one another in living up to it.

Think of your statement as a blue print that will allow you and your team to build something spectacular! Make sure it includes all the required “construction specifications.” Your community has a team of talented and dedicated people: surveyors, engineers, architects, artisans, builders and quality assurance inspectors. You want them all to feel connected to the project which means they all need to have a copy of the blue print.

Display your statement where members of your community can see it. Place it somewhere that inspires you to live it. Think of it as a living document. Treat it with respect and reverence. Use it as a guidepost to help lead the way during difficult times and challenging circumstances. As with any building project, you can anticipate there will be challenges with resources, time lines, compliance, environmental factors and changes!

Purpose Statements Inspire Action

On the CVDL website, I saw an intriguing invitation that asked if I wanted to “shape the global conversation about values-driven leadership and responsible business.” Those words read like a meaningful purpose statement and catapulted me into action. I applied to the doctoral program the very same day! I said “YES” I want to be a part of the conversation. I am delighted to share I was accepted into the program and am now a proud member of the 3rd Cohort of Benedictine’s doctoral program in Values-Driven Leadership and Organizational Change.

As a group, we spent a considerable amount of time during our orientation weekend thinking about the values and the behaviors we wanted to highlight in our purpose statement. We wanted the “terms of engagement” to help guide us in our journey towards the attainment of our doctorate degrees. I think we would all agree it was time well spent and has created our unique blue print for creating something spectacular in a way that is meaningful and reflected of our values.


Kent thumbnailMarcia Kent is the president of BizPsych and a student in the Ph.D. program in values-driven leadership. She has a passion for words that begin with the letter “C” and serves on the Cohort 3 Manifesto Committee!

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