We hear a lot about “purposeful” and “purpose-driven” leaders and organisations. 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?
My definition of a Purposeful Leader is the extent to which a leader has a strong moral self, a vision for his or her team, and takes an ethical approach to leadership marked by a commitment to stakeholders.
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.
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 a Purposeful Business Leaders?
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.
- 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. To combat this, organisations can consider strategies such as creating working groups to evaluate the impact of important decisions on a wide range of different stakeholders
So, let’s now move to leadership, my understanding of leadership is that leadership is the ability to motivate groups of people towards a common goal, an incredibly important skill in today’s business world.
Without strong leadership, many otherwise good businesses fail. Understanding the characteristics of strong leaders and cultivating those skills is paramount for those pursuing a career in business.
Many of the world’s most respected leaders have several personality traits in common. Some of the most recognisable traits are the ability to initiate change and inspire a shared vision, as well as knowing how to “encourage the heart” and model the skills and behaviours that are necessary to achieve the stated objectives. Good leaders must also be confident enough in themselves to enable others to contribute and succeed.
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.”
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 or Winston Churchill a Purposeful Leader?
What is your purpose?
Purpose goes beyond our physical and emotional needs. Being driven by a purpose or a mission contains much more than when we are driven by basic needs for which we set goals that we want to achieve.
When we are driven by purpose, we look for meaning in what we do – ways to create enrichment and happiness in our lives. In that sense, purpose means identifying our reason for being.
Today, many of us increasingly look for our professional lives to provide us with meaning and that is why one of the key tasks of effective leaders is to ignite a deeper sense of purpose in their employees.
Purpose ties the organisation together
When an organisation delivers excellent service, it is because the employees know what they do and why they do it. They simply manage to bring people together for a common cause. That is the backbone of what they do – namely the purpose. It is the job of the organisation and its leaders to provide the employees with meaning and in this context, purpose can be a driving force to achieve the intended results.
Being aligned on the purpose of work and being committed to fulfilling the mission is probably one of the most effective ways to engage both consumers and employees. However, we all know that it is hard enough to find individual purposes in life that creates meaning and motivates us. So how can this be done for a whole organisation with many diverse people?
How to lead with purpose?
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.
I have developed the fifth book in a series of books that provides purpose-driven outcomes in support of some of the most talked-about subjects in life today, my book is called ‘Purposeful Discussions’ through the book and its 32 chapters, I take purpose across everything we do; covering emotional intelligence, human to human interaction, human relationships, strategy, government, geopolitics, compliance, regulation, cybercrime with conclusions across life growth, long life learnings, personal development, mentorship and the takeaways that we all need to arm ourselves with over the next 10 years to survive, to co-create a more sustainable future.
My overall conclusion on Purposeful Business leadership in today’s disruptive world is a balanced view of universal characteristics and traits which has the potential to guide us through years of transformation with optimism and idealism.
The first step to using Purpose is to think about a company direction and Inspire others and thus to begin the personal transition from managing to leading is to understand your own Purpose.
If you aspire to become a leader, you also need to find an organisation that will accommodate your Purpose, only if we set sail on the right course and with smart individuals that make our Purposeful journey, progress, performance will become so much more worthwhile.
Stephen R. Covey once said:
“When you listen with empathy to another person, you give that person psychological air.”