If you’re interested in taking your leadership to the next level, it would be easy to get overwhelmed before you’ve even found a place to start. A Google search of “leadership” returns over 2.3 million hits, while a search for “leadership foundations” returns over a million. There are lots of things we could say contribute to great leadership, but after working with and coaching leaders for 40 years, we’ve discovered that there are five core foundations of powerful leadership that make for extraordinary leadership, and, in fact, for a powerful organization.

Being up to something meaningful is one of the core things we work on with our clients when they are creating new visions for themselves, their teams, and their organizations. Having a future that is compelling, that is meaningful, that calls people to something bigger than themselves, is critical in having people go beyond business as usual. Often, when business leaders are creating new futures, the first pass is either a literal description of what they do, or some version of “we are here to make money for our shareholders.” While this is undoubtedly true, it is not enough to get most people out of bed in the morning, let alone produce extraordinary results.

We encourage the leaders with whom we work to be up to something (or committed to something) beyond their own self-interests or the direct, literal interests of their shareholders; in other words, to be up to something meaningful. By example, a colleague of mine worked with a startup biotech company that produced a lifesaving drug for sick children. They were intensely focused on results, and it had served them well. They had been growing 10 – 20% per year and exceeding all predictions. When we started to work with them near the end of a year, they were projecting to lose 20%. When my colleague walked in, all she heard about was how many vials were sold that week; even the administrative assistants knew how many vials had been sold. The problem was that their focus on results had gotten them only so far but wasn’t carrying them forward.

As she worked with the leadership team, my colleague realized that their frame had become too narrow; they were no longer up to something meaningful. Having seen that, they created a purpose worth looking beyond the numbers (although, obviously, they would still have to be accountable for their results). They came up with the purpose “For the Life of Every Child”. The minute they expanded their context and got up to something meaningful, they saw a whole host of new actions to take, including setting up a foundation to supply the drug to families that couldn’t afford it. The very next year, the results recovered, they continued to grow, and they were eventually bought by a larger pharmaceutical company.

You don’t have to come up with a whole new future or purpose and open up a new world of actions in order to be committed to something meaningful, however. You can create a new, meaningful context for exactly the work you’re doing right now. This idea is underlined in the story of JFK visiting NASA in 1961: when he came across a janitor carrying a broom and asked him what he was doing. The janitor replied, “Well, Mr. President, I’m helping to put a man on the moon”.

I worked with a group of clients who were running the small power division of a mid-size energy infrastructure company. They were given a stretch goal of creating an additional $3 million additional savings or incremental revenue for the following year. This may not seem like a large number, but for this group that was a tiny part of the business already working very hard to cut costs and bring in every penny, it seemed astronomical. At first, they railed and complained about it, but in the end, they knew they didn’t have a choice. We then worked together to create something that would be worth them going for it—something meaningful. They dug in and realized that even they were a tiny part of the company, because they were a stable source of revenue generation in a time of growth, every dollar they could save or generate actually had a sizable impact on the company. Their stable revenue was, to a certain extent, being used to fund other areas of growth and investment. When they heard this, they came up with the phrase “powering the future of the company”—a play on words, as the power division, that gave them enormous meaning and compelled them to blow that goal out of the water.

Creating something meaningful to which you can commit yourself (whether it’s new work, a new future, or a new context for the same work) is a huge source of passion for leaders, and perseverance when the going gets tough. Not only that, but there is a large body of research to support the anecdotal evidence that people who see their work as meaningful experience much higher engagement and less burnout, perform better, and are more likely to say in their jobs.

Ask yourself: what is your version of “I’m helping put a man on the moon” or “for the life of every child”? What is the compelling or meaningful goal, purpose, or future to which you’re contributing? If you can’t see it, create it! Then share it. Being up to something meaningful is not only impactful for you and your work, but as a leader, it inspires others to go beyond themselves as well.