When Gerry Anderson first became the president of DTE Energy, he did not believe in the power of higher organizational purpose.
We’re not talking about having a clear mission that focuses largely on how a business will generate economic value. DTE had one that set out the goal of creating long-term gains for shareholders, and Anderson understood its importance.
A higher purpose is not about economic exchanges. It reflects something more aspirational. It explains how the people involved with an organization are making a difference, gives them a sense of meaning, and draws their support. But like many of the leaders we’ve interviewed in our research, Anderson started his tenure as president skeptical about how much it mattered. The concept of higher purpose didn’t fit into his mostly economic understanding of the firm.