What it takes to lead with purpose

Today’s leaders need to be better equipped to manage ethical dilemmas, engage in ethical thinking, and employ ethical decision-making practices, according to Dr Andre Taylor. Dr Taylor is Leadership Course Coordinator of AGSM @ UNSW Business School’s online MBA program and co-creator with Dr Dimity Podger of the new AGSM Short Course, Leading with Purpose.

“Leaders working on complex challenges today need to develop distinctly different leadership capacities, compared with the traditional, top-down directive forms more common in the 20th century,” he says.

Macro trends, such as the rapid pace of technology, globalisation and ongoing disruption to traditional industries, are leading to intense competition – and businesses need to find new ways to succeed in these complex environments while maintaining their moral integrity.

In Australia, we’ve recently seen several Royal Commission inquiries into the ethical behaviour of leaders across financial, environmental and social institutions. It has never been more important for leaders to behave in ways that build trust within their organisations and with stakeholders.

“In these increasingly complex environments, leaders need to confidently collaborate with others, innovate, experiment, take risks, cope with uncertainty and work across organisational boundaries, often without much authority,” says Dr Taylor.

Strengthening specific capacities can help you lead with purpose. Such capacities include:

  • Clarity around your own purpose and personal values, as well as the purpose and values of your organisation
  • Self-awareness to recognise your strengths and weaknesses as an ethical leader, including an awareness of the factors that might make you vulnerable to unethical behaviour or destructive leadership
  • The ability to identify ethical dilemmas, engage in ethical thinking and to confidently use specific tools to help with ethical decision-making
  • Having the moral courage to question entrenched custom and practice, and choosing to do the right thing in difficult circumstances
  • The ability to engage in authentic, servant and socialised forms of transformational leadership to drive positive change in a way that builds trust and serves others.

Putting people before profit

One of the great shifts in corporate mindset since the global capitalist boom of the 90s is the idea that businesses need to put people before profit. And that doing so in the ‘Age of Purpose’ can in turn help their bottom line.

In its 2018 Global Leadership Forecast, leadership firm DDI identified financial advantages for organisations with a focus on purpose. The survey of 1,500 global C-Suite executives found companies who both define and act with a sense of purpose outperformed those that didn’t by 42%.

Meanwhile, millennials are now the majority of employees – they make up more of the workforce than any other generation – and seek more from their leaders than just a salary. They want to work in organisations with a clear purpose that adds value to society or the environment, leaders who they can trust, empathy, transparency, a positive corporate culture and opportunities to give back. So companies seeking to attract the best talent need to offer such work environments and opportunities.

“The consumer product manufacturer Unilever is a good example of a global, purpose-driven business that is committed to addressing global poverty, reducing its impact on the planet and returning value to shareholders,” says Dr Taylor. “It is a workplace of choice for people with a strong personal commitment to sustainability and consequently, they receive approximately 1.8 million job applications per year.”

A renewed focus on ethical practices

Earlier this year, AGSM’s popular professional forum Ethical Leadership in an Accelerating World highlighted the need for greater commitment to ethical leadership and ways to improve practice.

Building on feedback from leaders who attended the professional forum, AGSM designed a new short course focusing on ethical leadership. Leading with Purpose will launch in December.

Dr Taylor’s personal mission is to work with enthusiastic leaders to drive positive change whilst demonstrating values of integrity, enabling others, sustainability and continuous learning – so designing the course was an exciting opportunity.

“The design of this course recognises that the terrain most leaders will be navigating in the future will be increasingly uncertain and complex,” says Dr Taylor. “Leaders will need to carefully and skilfully navigate ethical dilemmas around challenging issues such as artificial intelligence, managing people’s private data, robotics and genetic engineering – to name just a few.”

As such, he says there is a lot of work to be done to bridge the gap between current practice and the capacity leaders will need in the foreseeable future when it comes to ethical leadership.

“A broad range of leaders will need to identify ethical dilemmas, engage in ethical thinking and undertake ethical decision making – rather than rely on rules, precedents, codes and laws.”

Preparing leaders with ethical frameworks

To equip leaders with the ethical leadership practices, knowledge, skills, tools and confidence to engage in ethical leadership, AGSM will run two sessions of the new Leading with Purpose course in 2020; session one from 11th – 12th June and session two form 10th – 11th November.

Held in the Sydney CBD campus, participants will consider how to address real ethical dilemmas they are facing, using principles and tools that are introduced during the course.

“Co-creator and co-facilitator Dr Dimity Podger and I will be working with participants to progressively build a simple, individual leadership development plan that sets out the activities they are motivated to do to grow as an ethical leader using the principles, knowledge, tools and experience from the course,” says Dr Taylor.

Growing leaders with a strong commitment to ethical practice, authenticity and servant leadership is a priority for AGSM. If you are an assigned or emergent leader in any sector, this is an opportunity to strengthen the ethical foundations of your leadership, improve the extent to which you engage in ethical thinking and behaviour as part of self-leadership, and to enable others to do the same.

Enquire now here.

For any questions, call or e-mail:

+61 2 9385 0280