Agile Leader

The Difference Between Purpose, Mission, and Vision, and How to Create a Purpose-Driven Team (Part 1)

October 12, 2022
We want to spend some time differentiating between the terms “Purpose,” “Mission,” and “Vision,” particularly since it’s very rare to find two Organizations that agree on their usage, definition, and application. But it’s critical to understand how each discreet term (and the “order” in which they are conceived) is relevant to each other and to your Organization’s ultimate impact.

Our personal approach to keeping the terms straight is to substitute the words “Why,” “What,” and “How,” for “Purpose,” “Vision,” and “Mission” (respectively), as shown below (listed below in chronological order of “conception”):

  1. PURPOSE = WHY Why are you here? It’s why your Organization began its journey, and it’s guided by your Organization’s deeply held (core) values and beliefs.
  2. VISION = WHAT What do you hope to be? It’s your final destination.
  3. MISSION = HOW How do you plan to get to your vision?  It’s the unique path you choose to follow to get to your final destination.
So let’s talk about the associated Statements, and what these Statements are designed to do:

The Purpose Statement guides you—Your Purpose Statement articulates why you do what you do,why your Organization exists, and why you serve a higher purpose. For example, Southwest Airline’s Purpose Statement is “We connect people to what’s important in their lives through friendly, reliable, and low-cost air travel.”

The Vision Statement inspires you—Your Vision Statement articulates what you aspire to be and what are the results and goals you want to reach in the future. For example, Southwest Airline’s Vision Statement is “To become the World’s Most Loved, Most Efficient, and Most Profitable Airline.”

The Mission Statement focuses you—Your Mission Statement articulates how you fulfill your purpose and vision. It is designed to eliminate distractions and unlock the strategy that will deliver the best results. For example, Southwest Airline’s Mission Statement is “Dedication to the highest quality of customer service delivered with a sense of warmth, friendliness, individual pride, and Company Spirit.”

While the distinction between the three terms is relatively subtle, it is nonetheless critical, because each term has a distinct (and indispensable) purpose. Furthermore, the biggest reason to carefully craft all three is the collaborative journey it should require Organizations to get to each statement. It is the decisions around the language itself that can/should bond, align and inspire Leaders, Team Members, Stakeholders, and customers alike.

In the end, all three of these pieces drive your Organization to the Holy Grail: IMPACT.

Here’s our challenge for you: Take a moment to think about your Organization’s Purpose, Vision, and Mission Statements. With that in mind, get with your Team in order to write a Purpose, Vision, and Mission Statement for your Organization. We’d love to hear what you come up with!


One of the most reliable way to keep our Team Members motivated or “to keep them on the road to self-actualization” is to lead with purpose. But how do you do that?

Tip 1—DISCOVER the Purpose of your organization

Chances are, if you ask members of your Organization’s Leadership to state the “purpose” of your Organization, they could provide you with an official “Statement of Purpose.”  But we would challenge you to examine this Purpose Statement carefully: How old is it? How was it conceived? Is it well-known throughout the Organization? Does it guide your Organization’s key decisions? Does it inspire your Teams to do their very best work? Does it keep them on the road to self-actualization? 

If you’re not sure, consider whether the Purpose Statement was invented by heads (all-be-them well-meaning), or inspired by hearts?  Because we would argue that purpose can’t be invented, or at least it shouldn’t be. Rather, purpose always exists. As such, it can, and should, be discovered. How? Through empathy: Through feeling and understanding the deepest, and most common, fulfillment needs of your Organization.

And that means asking provocative questions and listening to the answers.

Deborah Ball, a former Dean of the School of Education at the University of Michigan, provides a great example. As a new Dean, Ms. Ball wanted to clarify her Organization’s purpose so that she could increase employees’ focus, commitment, and collaboration.

To “learn and unlearn the organization,” as she put it, she interviewed every faculty member in the School of Education.  She expected variances of opinion—and they were there of course.  But she also found a surprising commonality…what she called “an emerging story” about the faculty’s strong desire to have a positive impact on society.

But Ms. Ball’s process didn’t stop there. She then wrote up what she heard (or believed she heard), shared it with the people she had interviewed, listened to their reactions, and continued to refine their story.

So as you can see, this was not just a “listening tour;” it was an extended, disciplined, iterative process. In other words, it was Agile by its very nature.  She referred to the process as “collective creation” (which, by the way, is a phrase borrowed directly from Agile and Design-thinking methodologies).

As the process continued, it became clear that UofM’s School of Education had common strengths and desires that could be used for “social good” (such as addressing issues of educational affordability and serving underrepresented populations). And it was this “theme” that Ms. Ball discovered to be one of the most universally “inspirational” throughout the School of Ed. In other words, through this iterative, deeply empathic process, she discovered a foundational element of her organization’s Purpose.

So here’s our challenge for you: How old is your Organization’s Statement of Purpose? How was it conceived? Is it well-known throughout your Organization? Does it guide your Organization’s key decisions? Does it inspire your Teams to do their very best work? Most importantly, does it keep your Team Members on the road to self-actualization? And if not, or you’re not sure. have you, as Agile Leaders, gone through an iterative process of discovering (or re-discovering) your Organization’s (or maybe just your Team’s) purpose? Do you see any benefit to doing so? We’d love to hear from you!


Tanya Twerdowsky

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