Revisiting the difficult terrain of purpose in leadership


To again find your voice after a pause is an interesting process, moreover, when current incidents at least challenge the meaning and overall contribution of one’s own work.

Well, yesterday I had a light bulb moment while attending an event, thinking the following topic could do to reconnect with you all. Various speakers referred to purpose in their talks and stories. Purpose of individual people but also organisations.

The ‘invisible leader’

That reminded me of a quote that I wanted to mention and explore for a while: ‘Leaders and followers are both following the invisible leaders–the common purpose’, by Mary Parker Follett, an extraordinary scholar way ahead of her time (just search the internet for some of her writings).

Both words are critical: ‘Purpose’ with a focus on the content of an organisations mission. But also ‘common’; Our research showed that a shared obligation and connection amongst people, employees, or managers is key to making an organisation’s purpose a powerful invisible instrument.

Mark Cuddigan, Managing Director Ella’s Kitchen, referred to the role that the company’s mission plays for decision making, particularly for ambiguous situations or dilemmas they face. In those moments Ella’s Kitchen’s mission of ‘Good for tiny tummies. At Ella’s Kitchen, our mission is to create healthy eating habits that will last a lifetime’ really develops its strengths for guiding the business.

Finding, identifying, developing, shaping purpose – a journey!

Exploring the overarching purpose and core of an organisation is a deep and exploratory journey for institutions. Julia Rebholz, previously Head of Strategy at Centrica and now on secondment as Practitioner in Residence (I really like this) with A Blueprint for Better Business, invited the audience to reflect along the lines of Why do people like your company? If you are going to do that, this will be intriguing for at least two reasons. For the responses you get, but also, for finding out if the organisation has the courage to actually ask.

Sacha Romanovitch, CEO Grant Thornton UK, shared an experience that could be another starting point. How about asking something alike: If we would not exist as an organisation, for which reason would we start our business today?

Don’t get me wrong, organisations, managers, and employees have other aims and objectives to consider. No need to ignore that, but we can ask what is holding it all together

Try this.

It is difficult for yourself to start as a person again! But you could ask If you would start your paths of career, life, again, for which reason would you begin your journey?

And for your team or business? I would explore with your colleagues the questions above. That should be inspiring.

Happy engaging – stay tuned.


One comment

  1. I like your topic!

    Leaders I think of, bear an unyielding vision; and people who share in the values of this vision follow the leader, and the shared vision. Leadership is crafting a magnetic vision that she/he believes in and has future and present value that people identify with and desire to be a part of and choose to support. It IS the vision…???

    I think of Robert Noyce (Fairchild Semi. & Intel)!

    Emerson wrote, Our chief want is someone who will inspire us to be what we know we could be.
    (he hated quotations!)

    Then Eisenhower put it, “Leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it.”

    And more recently, Peter Senge’s vision(?!): “It’s not what the vision is, it’s what the vision does.”

    Jim Collins writes a great deal on defining organisational Vision as well, and he is wonderfully pragmatic in it! 🙂

    Jamie Shaw

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