How to lead a business with purpose

Purpose-led leadership helps managers navigate difficult times, and can also help leaders celebrate the things that go well, says UNSW Business School's Leisa Sargent
Victoria Ticha | UNSW Newsroom
A purpose-driven leader can articulate why an organisation exists and what problems it is here to solve. Photo: Shutterstock

Today, many business leaders strive to create value and do good globally, not just to increase profits. The trend for purpose-driven business continues to gain momentum, as many realise consumers today want to deal with companies fueled by a purpose that aligns with their own beliefs. 

So what does it take to lead with purpose? How to identify the personal contribution you want to make to the world, create a business model and lead with purpose was discussed in part two of The Business of Purpose-led Leadership, the 12th episode of the AGSM @ UNSW Business School Leadership Podcast series. 

Host Emma Lo Russo was joined by Victoria Momsen, Strategic Planning Manager at Lendlease Digital, and Alison Harrington, CEO and Founder of not-for-profit Moove & Groove. Also speaking on the podcast, UNSW Business School’s Leisa Sargent, Senior Deputy Dean and Co-Deputy Vice-Chancellor Equity, Diversity and Inclusion, shared how her values align with her work and the role of inclusivity and diversity in purpose-driven leadership.

From purpose to impact

Purpose-led leadership was about making sure that your values align with what you do, how you do it and the decisions you make as a result, said Prof. Sargent.

If you have a purpose, you have a more empowered workforce and a more engaged workforce, which is more likely to go the extra mile, be innovative, solve problems, and tackle issues within the business, explained Prof. Sargent.

But to find your purpose, Prof. Sargent said there are a few questions you need to ask yourself:

  • What were some pivotal moments in your life?
  • How have they shifted the way you think about yourself and how you lead?
  • What were the things that gave you joy when you were very young and why did they matter?
  • How can you communicate this in a way that will be meaningful and going to get reach?

“I think it goes back to that... the purpose is there, it’s been there for a long time, and it’s probably through your prior experiences that you can really hone it and define it,” she said. 

Purpose-led leadership helps managers navigate difficult times, and can also help leaders celebrate the things that go well, she said.

“From a development perspective, it just makes it so much easier to lead. If you understand why you’re doing what you’re doing and that you can communicate that well, to your peers, to your colleagues and staff, and to your constituents, I think it means that you can wrestle with difficult issues,” she said.

Moove & Groove on leading with impact

One example of a company committed to purpose-driven leadership is Moove & Groove, which utilises silent disco technology to create an immersive musical and movement experience for people living with dementia in the senior community.

Moove & Groove’s founder and CEO, Allison Harrington, has built a career around connecting her desire to have social impact and having more meaning and purpose. Her purpose-led business started with a simple idea: to make music accessible for seniors with dementia.

Five years ago, Harrington ran a silent disco event to raise money for charity, and she said it struck her how happy it was making everyone and saw how beneficial it could be for physical and mental health. Then, driven by a desire to create a purpose-driven business, she went on to study social impact at UNSW Sydney from 2014 to 2016.

“It was there I saw the crazy silent disco technology and just decided ‘you know what, this is really fun.’ So, I started a little side gig dancing – a business that I had doing silent disco for charities on the side,” she said.

Her silent disco idea has since expanded into a complete lifestyle program, 1000 podcasts and 350 music playlists, 30 radio stations, and something for everyone. “We’ve gone from probably 15 to 20 facilities, to now 100, in a very short period of time. So it’s been a pretty rapid trajectory, and I never would have dreamed of coming up with this idea, then having a pandemic in the middle of it,” she said.

Harrington previously ran 10 x 10 – a live crowdfunding charity composed of young professionals who raise funds for innovative grassroots charities by hosting guests at inspiring events, where she first “saw the power of purpose”.

Managing 10 x 10 gave Harrington the confidence and foundation to then start Move & Groove, and now, her business is creating an impact.

“We’re getting phenomenal responses from people in the field with a very simple application of a pair of headphones in their favourite song, which is different to giving them a drug or really having those people in distress for a long time.”