Embed deep purpose and foster resilience within organizations

Speaking Topics

Click on each topic for an in depth description.

Instructional Methodology

Organizational Purpose as a Source of Competitive Advantage

Businesses large and small must pursue a purpose or reason for being if they are to serve society as well as shareholders. But although many companies talk about purpose (as do investors, consultants, and journalists), the vast majority haven’t made radical and far-reaching changes to their operating models. A few companies like Patagonia, Danone, and Unilever stand out for their embrace of purpose. The vast majority of companies today by contrast make limited contributions to society and can’t seem to organize around themselves comprehensively and operationally around their reason for being.

In this session we will explore exemplar firms (large and small) to uncover some of the ways in which they have turned the pursuit of purpose into a source of competitive advantage. In doing so we will also uncover some of the barriers that prevent them from pursuing purpose energetically and effectively.  Going beyond traditional prescriptions for working with purpose, we will examine some of the key misconceptions most leaders have about the nature, scope, and value of purpose, as well as how best to define, communicate, embed, and sustain it. We will discuss how leaders think about and activate purpose, and in this way support a broader transformation, reimagining, and reform of contemporary business practices.

Reflection Questions:

  1. What does purpose mean to you?
  2. Does purpose encompass your business objectives only or must it include something more?
  3. Why do you think it is important for your organization to have a purpose today?
  4. Why do most leaders treat purpose as a marketing slogan and nothing more?
  5. What do leaders need to do to truly embed purpose into their organization?
Cultivating Courage

In my research I have found that courage is not just an individual psychological trait, but one that can be actively cultivated in others. This is crucially important because, as managers, we need our employees to not just call our attention to things that are amiss (as in the case of whistleblowers), but because customers and clients have increasingly high expectations that must be met. Instilling courage means that top managers must not only demonstrate this quality themselves, but also foster it among others. As market turbulence around us continues unabated, courage can be the new currency for organizational success.

Giving people the mere permission to make decisions isn’t enough, because most people still need to feel a sense of direction. This means that you have to cultivate in them the courage to make the right decisions on their own — and not just on a day-to-day basis, because you will never have the specific information, at any given moment, that they have. An organizational courage quotient that builds in a capacity for risk-taking and the tolerance for failures allows the company as a whole to learn and try again.

In this interactive lecture we will use a series of historical and contemporary cases to explore how learning to act with courage entails developing a purposeful and powerful self-narrative, or “narrative identity” as psychologists call it. Each of us has embedded within us a story of ourselves, based on our past experiences, that shapes our behavior. My research shows that leaders can trigger courage when they help others to reframe their self-narratives in specific ways. Some of these re-framings include: “Am I playing a heroic part in a virtuous quest? Do I feel that I have my teammate’s back, and that she has mine? If I’m facing a daunting task, does my manager support rather than punish me? Am I achieving mastery in my job? Am I trusted to act under my own power?” By helping followers answer these questions in the affirmative for themselves, leaders can encourage them to become courageous leaders in their own rights. We will use in-class exercises how each of us can be a catalyst for courageous action not only within ourselves but also in those around us.

Leading from Within

This lecture will focus on the inner journey of leadership. We will examine how leaders not only manage others around them but also themselves. Using illustrative cases and recent research we will discuss how outstanding leaders are equally adept at managing others as they are themselves. We will start with a discussion of how adept leaders understand their capabilities and their goals. But they also dig beneath them to uncover their underlying drivers, values and purpose. We will then explore how leaders who comprehend all these facets of themselves become authentic and impactful leaders within their organizations.