Business Insight: As a leader, think about purpose, not just profit
Avoid organizational greed by focusing on social responsibility, author advises.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Explain how old definitions of leadership are stale.

I've often defined leadership, which originally morphed from management, as the ability to lead people, build fellowship and make money. But I've realized that this definition is so yesterday. Just look at iconic companies such as Digital Equipment Corp., Polaroid and Arthur D. Little. They were led by extraordinary leaders and had strong employee satisfaction and engagement, yet they went bankrupt. Why? Because employee engagement, profit, growth, client satisfaction and even solid leadership by themselves are not sustainable. Today, leadership is about Creativeship, defined as the creation of sustainable cultures and business models. Creativeship will allow a business to compete and thrive in this world of unprecedented technological advances, globalization, shifting economic drivers, government intervention, changing workforce demographics, vastly different motivational drivers with Gen X and the emergence of corporate social responsibility as a motivational driver.

Explain the importance of shifting from a profit-driven to a purpose-driven company.

Employees, the media, the government and other key stakeholders are fed up with organizational greed. It started in 2000-2002 when companies such as Enron, Arthur Anderson and WorldCom lost their moral compasses. This theme continued during the Great Recession, when we saw the collapse of our financial institutions. Most financial experts agree that this recession had its roots at organizational greed, and a tenacious singular focus toward profit. When there is such a short-term focus on short-term incentives, you end up encouraging organizational greed. As we go forward, there is overwhelming evidence that employees want to work for employers that are focused on corporate social responsibility and other purpose-driven activities. A parallel trend is the increasing role baby boomers are playing in leading corporate social responsibility activities. After years of focusing on wealth accumulation and career advancement, boomers are shifting their priorities. For instance, the largest demographic group helping to build homes within the Habitat for Humanity community are boomers who realize they're on the "back nine" of their careers and are focused on giving.

What is the No. 1 impediment to this new style?

We assume people leadership is easy and can be done by anyone. Big mistake. Companies need to identify the appropriate behaviors and traits necessary to lead and engage people within their organizations, and make their people leader selections against these behaviors. Additional impediments are scarcity of time and money. Building an engaged workforce is not free, and does not occur quickly. You can't just turn on a light switch and, presto, you have it. Instead, it's a journey that requires leadership's time and focus, and the necessary resources to sustain the engagement efforts. Engagement is about focusing on the things that should get done, including on-going communication, staff development, creating alignment and building cultures of creativity and innovation — all things that get deferred during challenging economic times.

How can companies still engage employees?

Demonstrate that you value the input of your employees. Find ways to seek their ideas and suggestions. Keep all of them engaged in all aspects of the company by meeting with them regularly, collectively and individually. Regularly find ways to remind employees' of the company's vision and how their job fits into this vision. Engagement is about alignment and building a mutual commitment between your leadership team and your employees. This "line of sight" is critically important in order to get your employees behind your company's vision. Also, the busier we tend to get, the less time there is to recognize jobs well done. This is such a lost opportunity because recognizing and celebrating people's successes go a long way toward building engagement and building a positive, sustainable work culture. Employee recognition is also inexpensive — giving away sweatshirts with the company logo or Starbucks gift cards.

Dawn House Bob Kelleher, author