How to get support as you build a purpose-driven business

Let’s say you’re building a business that takes care of people, creates a profit, and changes the planet. The universe should line up in support of your vision, and everything should be easy, right?

As a business owner you probably regularly wonder what the heck you got yourself into and how you can be successful making your vision a reality. The good news is that you’re in very good and helpful company - and we can help you know where to look for support.

A few years ago, we started attending the Small Giants Summit , a gathering of purpose-based leaders from across the world. We were attracted by the philosophies Paul Spiegelman and Bo Burlingham, leaders of the Small Giants movement, brought to the business world.  With the belief that businesses don’t have to be big to make big impacts, this group creates space for connection for those who believe purpose and people can drive business strategy rather than solely relying on financials.

While Chris has been an active participant in the Summit for a few years now, I experienced my first Small Giants Summit this year. For those who are wondering if yet ANOTHER conference would really benefit them, here are a few of my observations that might help make your decision easier.

1. Dive right in - you are welcome here

Even as a major extrovert, walking into a new conference can be difficult. Especially one that has the reputation of being a very tight-knit community. How do you authentically connect with people in a more than superficial way? Would it be one of those times when everyone is polite, but you still feel just a bit like an outsider?

Yeah - that’s not the way this conference works. I’ve never been to a conference that felt more open and welcoming to those who had never participated before.

Photo courtesy of Small Giants

Photo courtesy of Small Giants

I was blown-away by the intentional choices Summit planners used to create connection in every element of this conference. We had assigned tables for several different sections of the conference which were curated to encourage conversation and connection. Evening events were small plates so you had the opportunity to mingle. From strategic groupings for small-group conversation to the delivery of delicious local snacks within the meeting space, all opportunities for networking were filled with engaging ways to encourage folks to interact.

And that interaction was key to building connection. I quickly realized at this summit there is no small talk. Instead, I was participating in important talk. No one was really talking about the weather (though Detroit is lovely in the rain). Instead we jumped right into what challenges we were facing, what courage looks like when you’re trying to find harmony between the personal and professional, and the brave and bold things leaders are doing to make work a place for employees to thrive as people.

2. Be vulnerable, open, and honest first to help others do the same

In a new environment I find it important to seek out those that clearly thrive in the setting. I have a question I always ask of those who have more experience with the event. “What is the most important thing I need to be successful at this conference?” Usually responses are varied and run the gamut from “The best snacks are in room 114” to “Skip so-and-so’s session. It’s repetitive and over-exaggerated.”

The dozen or so Small Giants regulars I asked came back with the same two or three answers every time. The theme was crystal clear. “Get really vulnerable,” they’d say. Or, “The more open and honest you can be about your problems and challenges, the more you will gain from your time here.” “Everyone wants to help, so let them.”

Vulnerability, authenticity, open and honest? At a business conference? That’s different. And refreshing.

And people meant it! In all of my conversations, people genuinely wanted to talk about the things that were hard, as well as the things that were going well. And not just about their companies, but also about the dent they are trying to make in the universe and how they create lasting change.  They shared advice freely and met me at eye-level, asking helpful questions and connecting me to folks in the room who could share a different perspective.

Too often, these aspirational words are stuck on program bulletins and rarely show up in conversation or programming. Not at Small Giants. Courage, vulnerability, and honesty is where it starts at the Summit. What’s even more amazing is where the conversation goes from there.  

3. Get inspired by others changing the world

Some of us dream about how our businesses can make the world a better place. And as a leader, you sometimes get to the point when it all feels like a nice dream but there’s no way to make this work the way I think it really could. Because there’s always challenges. There’s always some new curve ball that you don’t see coming. It’s HARD. And that’s okay. Doubt is a normal part of the process. Purpose-based work is not without challenges, frustration, and tearing out of the hair.

In each keynote, workshop, and small-group session I heard astounding stories of impact beyond a products or programs. I heard what it really means to live in your purpose and values across every level of your company.

  • When world conflict makes your business illegal overnight, you stick to your values and move 50 employees, and their families, 500 miles. In a week.

  • Why a restaurateur got sober and created spaces that allow for a different type of kitchen dynamic where staff have healthier coping mechanisms.

  • You can make great pizza and help people learn what it means to be a great employee at the same time. Especially when you’re teaching lessons that will last long after they spin their last ball of dough.

  • Life changing medical issues can actually make your company stronger if you use it as an opportunity to have employees really help shape what they want to own.

Whether it was from the stage or in casual conversation, Small Giant leaders shared their struggles and embraced their triumphs. And in all of it, made space to show others how they worked through the challenges to come out the other side with purpose and passion intact. Changing the world is not for the faint of heart. Finding inspiration in others can help make it easier.

4. It’s addictive

There’s something to be said about the headiness of two days of serious and deep conversations. You start to wonder what it might be like if all your days were filled with such value.

So where does that leave you?

Just as much as you need others, leaders like you also need  your vision, courage, and vulnerability. Consider adding the Summit to your yearly development plan. Come to learn from others by diving right in, be vulnerable and open, and eventually you’ll be up on stage inspiring everyone with your vision and impact.

We’ll be at next year’s summit and we’d love to see you there. If you can’t wait, let’s find time to talk about the positive dent you are working to make in the universe right now.