Rethinking the Purpose and Trust of Leadership

Over the past five years, there’s been an explosion of interest in purpose-driven leadership. Academics, business experts, and even doctors make the case that purpose is a key to exceptional leadership and the pathway to greater well-being.

Despite this growing understanding, however, a big challenge remains. Few leaders have a strong sense of their own individual purpose, research and experience show, and even fewer can distill their purpose into a concrete statement or have a clear plan for translating purpose into action. As a result, they limit their aspirations and often fail to achieve their most ambitious professional and personal goals.

To harness the power of corporate purpose, CEOs and other senior executives must pressure-test that purpose with their teams, employees—and themselves.

But what does that really mean, and does it make a difference?

There’s been considerable interest in the notion of “purposeful” and “purpose-driven” leaders and organisations in recent years, driven by growing levels of distrust and disillusionment with what are often regarded as the short-termism, financial imperatives driving contemporary firms. Typically, the attributes of purposeful organisations – societal responsibility, values and ethics – are simply translated into the qualities that characterise their ideal leaders. But what type of leaders do purposeful organisations really need?

Purpose is an aspirational reason for being that inspires and provides a call to action for an organisation, its partners, stakeholders, and society as a whole. Strategic research has consistently shown that purpose enables organisations to perform well in times of volatility. The research joins a growing body of evidence demonstrating that a strong and active purpose raises employee engagement and acts as a unifier, makes customers more loyal and committed to working with you, and helps to frame effective decision making in an environment of uncertainty. The EY Global Leadership Forecast 2018 found that getting purpose right builds organisational resilience and, crucially, improves long-term financial performance.

Don’t assume a lack of discussion equals agreement. Don’t assume that your organization’s purpose is good enough, goes far enough, or that your colleagues even see eye to eye about it. Have the courage to participate in tough discussions and learn where things stand.

Independent research from Linkage found connections between purposeful leaders and business results: The companies they led had 2.5 times higher sales growth, four times higher profit growth, five times higher “competitive differentiation and innovation” scores, and nine times higher employee engagement scores. Companies that create lasting leadership impact differentially invest in developing purposeful leaders; and they take concrete steps to assess the organisational dynamics that shape leadership performance.

So exactly what is Purposeful Business Leader?

My extensive research into the subject came up with the following structure of what makes a Purposeful Leader:
 Purposeful leadership and its constituent components – moral self, commitment to stakeholders and vision – are important in influencing a range of employee outcomes, including intent to quit, job satisfaction, willingness to go the extra mile, sales performance and lower levels of cynicism. Alongside this, ethical leadership approaches also emerge as central for employees’ experience of their work. Employers should consider ways of creating and embedding a purposeful and ethical approach throughout the organisation.
 Vision is especially important for employees and leaders alike to provide a sense of direction to guide activities. However, multiple or conflicting visions can emerge over time and in different departments or units, causing a sense of confusion and uncertainty, and so organisations should aim for alignment around a set of core themes.
 There is much that organisations can do to foster an environment conducive to purposeful and ethical leadership; appropriate central policies, leader role-modelling, training and development, and the organisational values and culture can nurture purposeful leaders. 41
 Constraints in organisations revolve around time and resource pressures, unrealistic targets, communication errors such as over-communication, remoteness of the centre, and cultural factors such as risk-aversion. When seeking to develop a purposeful approach to leadership, organisations should attend to issues such as these that may sabotage their efforts.
 Organisations tend to focus on a limited range of stakeholders and discount others from their decision-making. However, this can lead to an imbalance in how the organisation relates to its wider setting.

Leadership is central to transformation success. Companies with a systematic and well-supported approach to activate leaders see transformation success rates that are three times higher than those of their competitors. Yet leader engagement has decreased significantly since the pandemic—a drop of roughly 40% in two years.

The current business environment creates a paradox for leaders. Increased complexity and volatility mean that companies face a constant need for change. Yet the accelerating pace of business means that CEOs often struggle to manage complex transformation programs. Success requires a new approach to leadership—research shows that CEO engagement has a dramatic impact on transformation success. Aligning leadership with a powerful purpose is one of six attributes empirically identified as an essential component of short- and medium-term company performance.

Leaders of future-built companies are generative across the head, heart, and hands—as one team. The head refers to reinventing business to serve people, planet, society, and shareholders; the heart involves inspiring and enriching the human experience; and the hands entails executing and innovating through supercharged teams. Among companies that fully engage the head, heart, and hands, 96% see a sustained performance improvement, compared with just 33% that partially engage.

Leaders focus on a purpose that goes beyond the bottom line. Increasingly, leaders need to develop an authentic purpose to create value for people, for society and for the planet—not just investors. Moreover, they must embed environmental, social, and governance (ESG) into their overall strategy, not keep it off to the side.

Companies face common barriers. A shift in C-suite behaviours can help organizations drive faster end-to-end, cross-functional outcomes and overcome common barriers around near-sighted business targets, insufficient funding, and business unit misalignment. Building and scaling generative leadership across the organization and beyond the C-suite requires following a set of six key principles—relevance, impact, flexibility, integration, immersion, and coaching.

The Next Steps for Leaders

Building a reinvention for leadership is a process. Building for the future through leadership is a process that takes continued effort over time. Yet it pays financial and nonfinancial benefits as companies move up in terms of their maturity.

Many organizations mistakenly neglect the heart aspect of transformation. Leading with the heart is the most valuable to employees, but leaders most commonly neglect this dimension. Starting with a purpose and spearheading authentic ESG efforts are foundational to the leading with the heart, both with high impact across people and business results.

Purpose has power. The key to leadership from the heart and the head begins with a purpose among the top three success factors for transformation, having a clear purpose ranks first. Purpose aligns every element of the business; it is how employees see themselves as part of something bigger, regardless of their role. Purpose has tremendous impact when done well—companies with a clear purpose have 8% less turnover, a two-fold increase in productivity, and 3.25 times the involvement in transformation initiatives. Perhaps most important: they are twice as likely to have a high TSR.

Let’s now look at some of the most recognised model leaders from the past:

The Ability to Initiate Change — Franklin D. Roosevelt

Good leaders are never satisfied with the status quo and usually take action to change it. In addition, strong leaders bring about change for the common good by involving others in the process. Roosevelt. sought practical ways to help struggling men and women make a better world for themselves and their children.

His philosophy was, “bold, persistent experimentation…Take a method and try it. If it fails, admit it frankly and try another. But above all, try something.” Being willing to take risks by trying new ideas and involving others in the process of change is a key quality of strong leaders.

Inspiring a Shared Vision — The Leadership of Martin Luther King

Leaders, through their words and actions, must have the ability to draw others into a common vision by telling others where they intend to go and urging them to join in that vision.
Martin Luther King’s vision of a country free from racial segregation and discrimination, so poignantly expressed in his famous “I have a dream…” speech, exemplifies this critical leadership trait. King had a vision of a better America, and his ability to bring both whites and blacks together to march against segregation changed America profoundly.

Model Leadership — Mohandas K. Gandhi

Strong leaders not only need to have a vision and the ability to initiate change, but they must also model the values, actions, and behaviors necessary to make the vision reality. Gandhi not only created and espoused the philosophies of passive resistance and constructive non-violence, but he also lived by these principles.

According to Indira Gandhi, “More than his words, his life was his message.” By choosing to consistently live and work in a manner that exemplified the values he believed in, Gandhi engendered trust, becoming a role model for others looking to affect change without resorting to violence.

Encouraging the Heart — The Leadership of Winston Churchill

On December 29, 1940, London was hit by one of the largest aerial attacks of World War II. Somehow, St. Paul’s Cathedral survived. Two days later a photo showing a silhouette of the dome of St. Paul’s, surrounded by smoke and flames ran in the paper with a caption that read, “It symbolises the steadiness of London’s stand against the enemy: the firmness of right against wrong.”

Churchill recognized the importance of St. Paul’s as a morale booster. His instructions were clear on that December night, “At all costs, St. Paul’s must be saved.”

Rewriting The Laws of Nature For The Betterment of Humanity – Albert Einstein

Albert Einstein is perhaps the most famous scientist of the 20th century. The prized physicist had a profound impact on our understanding of the universe, including basic concepts such as time, light and gravity.

To this day, his work is being used to guide physicists to new frontiers, helping us to understand our significance on the grandest scale.

In addition to his timeless quotes and deep sense of humour, Einstein is remembered for overcoming adversity. His ability to keep a positive attitude and provoke creative thought experiments were at the centre of his genius. More than 60 years after his death, the world remembers not a man who spent years working at a patent office, but a man who changed the world.

The Embodiment of Liberty and Great Emancipator of Slaves – Abraham Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln was more than just an American hero; he represented the dawn of a new era in human civilization based on freedom, self-government and equality.

Lincoln rapidly modernized the economy without sacrificing his values. By 1860, he secured the Republican Party presidential nomination and was elected president. Lincoln’s victory prompted southern slave states to form the Confederate States of America.

To this day, Lincoln is synonymous with the principles of liberty, democracy, equal rights and unification.
His willingness to stand alone on issues he believed in made him one of the most beloved and memorable leaders in modern history.

The Physicist Who Proved That Determination and Positive Thinking Can Triumph Over Even The Most Severe Limitations – Stephen Hawking

Stephen Hawking probably had every reason to give up on life.

Diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) at the age of 21, he would spend most of his life severely disabled to the point where he controls his communication device through movement of his cheek muscles.

Despite his debilitating condition, Hawking became arguably the most well-known theoretical physicist since Albert Einstein. Hawking is known for his groundbreaking work on cosmology, quantum physics and black holes.

Hawking came from humble beginnings. The eldest of 4 children, Stephen was born in England during the Second World War. By his own admission, Hawking didn’t spend a lot of time studying.

That didn’t stop him from graduating with full honours before pursuing a PhD in cosmology at Cambridge University.

Much has been written about Hawking and his thought-provoking theories on the universe. He has received worldwide acclaim not only for his work, but for his determination in overcoming a severe disability.

When he was originally diagnosed with ALS, he was given only two years to live. That was over 50 years ago. On overcoming his disability.

Hawking’s attitude comes from his sheer refusal to make excuses for his disabilities. His ex-wife Jane Hawking attributed his outlook on the world to a combination of determination and stubbornness. As Hawking clearly demonstrates, both traits have their pedigree.

Leaders must be able to encourage the hearts of those who share their vision, providing a sense of confident optimism even in the face of enormous difficulties.

Traditional skills have not been supplanted but they now co-exist and very visually have survived with a mix of new factors, in your mind was Franklin D. Roosevelt, Martin Luther King, Mohandas K. Gandhi, Winston Churchill, Albert Einstein, Abraham Lincoln or Stephen Hawking a Purposeful Leader?

When creating an organisational shared purpose the essential questions to ask are:

What is the shared purpose that;
 Articulates a clear purpose for your organisation. Focus on answering the why questions. We all know what our organisations do. Purpose is about asking why we exist in the first place, what our employees and stakeholders care about, and what resonates with customers.
 Use purpose as a lens for everything you do. Let purpose guide the solutions you offer, how you treat your customers, and how you engage your workforce.
 Communicate success stories to all constituents. Stories perpetuate purpose. Each time people repeat them, purpose entwines more closely with day-to-day business.
 Integrate purpose into the company’s DNA. Reinforce purpose through the day-to-day customer and employee experience. Treat purpose as a commitment to stakeholders and publicly update on its progress.
 Focus on leaders. Help them develop their own “why.” Work with all leaders to articulate their own purpose as it relates to the overarching purpose for the business. Then, help them do the same for their teams and employees.
 Develop key skills. Purpose-driven leaders form teams, inspire, and motivate in a fast-changing world. They develop psychological safety and agility.

Uncovering authentic organisational purpose can come quite simply from finding ways to be of service. What’s needed today is for all leaders to look beyond profit and ask, ‘What do I have that could help someone right now?

Where can I practice abundance where there is short supply?’

Organisations will be changed by their actions to make a difference in these times of crisis. Connecting with employees at a human level as we enter into one another’s home offices and living rooms, meeting children and pets on the screen, is organically changing and strengthening cultures. It’s happening today by default; tomorrow leaders can shape their cultures with lessons learned by design. Leaders and organisations that count on their core culture and values and make a difference while pivoting to solve for the future will emerge from the fires of this crisis and thrive.

Finally, leadership has got to step up, if you want to save your job in the next 10 years, you need to adopt a balance between IQ, EQ, SI, DI, WI and trust intelligence. Emotional intelligence isn’t just an idea for leadership anymore, it’s a prerequisite for the trust toolbox.

The way to build trust and drive home purpose is to master honest communication and include employees and stakeholders in key decisions.

“We’ve seen fax machines, long emails, instant messaging, all kinds of collaboration tools come, go and sometimes stay. Business is about communicating with purpose, active listening, empathy. More trust has got to be to put into the executive leadership. Trust is the glue.”

The more emotional intelligence leadership teams employ across teams, the more you’ll see an increase in trust because people will see it’s not just words but actions. At IBEM, we commissioned a trust report back in January 2020. Even before I commissioned the research, I knew what to expect.

“69% of everyone surveyed said they don’t trust CEO or line manager.”

I would take that as applicable across all business and commerce. We’ve got to communicate more, build trust within organisations more. We can’t deliver anything without fixing this problem.

Inclusion of people into the decision-making process helps cement purpose and values.”

Vincent Thomas Lombardi was an American football coach and executive in the National Football League, who once said:

“A team is not a group of people who play together, a team is a group of people who trust each other.”

The continued success of my 5th book, Purposeful Discussions, was published across some of the biggest issues in business today, purpose driven outcomes, which lead to my 6th book, The Trust Paradigm.

The best business leaders begin by framing trust in economic terms for their companies. The best leaders focus on making the creation of trust an explicit objective. Like any other goal, it must be measured and improved. It must be made clear to everyone that trust matters to management and leadership.

It’s clear from the news that the leaders of some of our most influential governments and corporations are making morally questionable decisions. These decisions will lose the trust of society, customers, and employees.

No amount of electronic communication – staff intranet, corporate social media, marketing emails – will fix this, yet many organizations assume this can replace meaningful dialogue even though this is the only real means of building trust and high-functioning #relationships.

Pathway to The Trust Paradigm

You can order your copy of the book on all formats now Amazon: audible hardback kindle softback

Or visit #TheTrustParadigmBook website:

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