This post is targeted to anyone who, deep down, wants to make a significant positive difference for the good of others. Not just those who want to make other people’s lives better each day, but those of you who desire to make BIG changes in someone’s life, such that they would one day say you significantly changed their life for the better.

I have this in me, and I know our entire team has this same desire.

I suspect you know that we believe that bringing real value to others through cool products and services is a worthy endeavor in itself. These things make other people’s lives better. But I’m coming to realize that many of  you alumni want your life to be about something more than just making cool products or services, and certainly more than just making money.

Traditionally, people who have this strong desire to help others fundamentally change their life go into mission-focused non-profit work, like Mel Trotter Ministries, the Ronald McDonald House, or the Boys and Girls Club, to name a few.

I’ve also seen this desire lived out in adults who impact young people’s lives through teaching/coaching sports, performing arts, debate, academic endeavors; and also in adults who enter the medical field. The discipline and self-belief required to excel in these areas are the same basic ingredients of becoming successful in almost anything else, and more importantly, in constructing a good life worth living.

We don’t often think of going into business as a powerful option for people who have a strong desire to change others’ lives. And that’s a shame. More recently I’ve become keenly aware of what a great opportunity for-profit business provides as a vehicle to significantly change people’s lives for the better.

We sometimes act as though business makes people’s lives better only through the products and services they provide. This is a worthy endeavor in itself. We talked about this in the LEAD 24/7 year when we explored the concept of value and how to create it. The value that we provide through business should make people’s days better, whether through a friendly smile, just the right service when it’s needed, or through a great product that makes their life more enriched or efficient.

I’m sitting on a plane while writing this, and I fully appreciate the ability to fly to a distant land, all because of a business model that makes this possible. My life is better because of my ability to travel this way. And the person serving drinks and those great little cookies—with a big smile on her face, as if I’m someone special—makes my life better.

These forms of value are great, and these kinds of business examples are worthy for that value alone. But I’m talking about something different here. I’m talking about making significant change in someone’s life.

One example of how a person’s life can be fundamentally changed is when a person who’s never really been taught how to work, who’s never experienced the joy that can come from achieving good things through persistent positive effort, is given a job. Providing that person compassionate and firm guidance about how to project a successful demeanor even when things get tense, especially if no one has modeled this for them before, can fundamentally change their life.

These things make a big difference in this world. These things provide followers a path to success that most never thought possible.

Another example would be when someone who’s already doing pretty well is challenged to do way more than they thought possible by a leader who sees abilities in them to which they are blind. This can change how they see themselves, and lead them to a trajectory that takes them higher than they though imaginable.

When I left Lansing at the age of 33, I had a pretty good life. I’d been an engineer at GM for several years, was married and raising two young boys, living in a nice house on a small lake. Life seemed great.

I moved to Holland and worked at a company that believed business in itself created an opportunity to help people become all they could be, and I grew a great deal working there. These areas of growth not only included things I implemented at work, but also personal things, like health, family, finances, and even spiritual growth. The years I worked at that company fundamentally changed who I was, and I’m now doing things I NEVER could have imagined at 33 years old. Things that leaders who knew me then believed that I could do.

These are just two examples of how a great company, with great leaders, can fundamentally change people’s lives in amazing ways. If you, like those of us at Leading by DESIGN, want to make this kind of difference in people’s lives, think again about how leading within a for-profit business can be a vehicle for doing that. It is a very worthy way to use your one life!

So What If…

Next week I’ll write about our dream and our purpose at Leading by DESIGN—What if West Michigan became a region where we fully embrace this opportunity to be these kinds of leaders? I hope you’ll check it out.

In the meantime, make this a great week for those you lead!

Image by Taston. Used under CC-BY-ND 2.0 license.