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What’s bigger than business?

By Scotty Johnson

More than business

A generation ago when successful people reached the top of their business they were eyeing retirement. Golf and spa retreats. Now we’re working longer and reaching senior positions earlier in our lives, that’s not looking very attractive.

Talented leaders are capable of much more than cranking business operations to generate profits. And often that potential is experienced as a sense of something missing, a restlessness, a need for new challenges. It’s a particular frustration when there’s also such obvious needs for good leadership, energy and ideas in the wider world - new ways to deal with the unprecedented complexity of threats and opportunities presented by climate change, sustainability, social inequalities, cyber-privacy. 

Finding the next you

People with such strong networks, levels of influence and experience of making things happen, are made for the job. The question is, where to start, what matters most? Finding purpose is acutely individual, rooted in personal beliefs and motivations; and so not as obvious as identifying business strategy.

Professional business administration has been based on the principle that the more organisations are ‘dehumanised’, made less personal, irrational, emotional, the more efficient and effective they will be. This attitude has encouraged business leaders to be instinctively wary of acknowledging and exploring the personal and emotional.

It doesn’t have to be a case of moving on from a business role. When it comes to addressing these big global challenges, it’s increasingly understood that business will be - has to be - a major part of the solutions. And in the VUCA world, where planning at any level is less effective and important than adaptability and quality delivery, a strong sense of purpose for the enterprise is replacing the need for strategy. Employees want inspiring leaders, people with a bigger vision, not careful strategists. Klopp (Liverpool FC’s passionate man-manager) not Mourinho (the strict tactician with a record of losing the backing of his players). Finding that keen sense of purpose is to unlock something both personally and professionally, for yourself and a business. 

Changing for good

The new Purpose experience, run by Cranfield with Explore What Matters, has been designed for senior leaders, as individuals, to discover what they need to be doing next. To inspire and be inspired. That means having the time, the right environment and the right company, to reflect and explore. As a result, people adopt a different mindset, one focused around a better understanding of the world and how they are going to contribute to it, how they can best give back. This kind of deeper, more personal, connection with what’s discussed leads to real learning and to long-lasting changes in people’s lives.

Leaders gain new energy and impetus from the experience they go through. They feel like they’ve shed a skin of unwanted ways of thinking, tired habits, and are starting afresh with the same enthusiasm they first started their career with. We’ve had feedback that people start noticing more of the world around them, feeling free from business conventions. Someone else said they would now only to go to bed with their partner, not their smartphone. It’s only by being a whole person, not a human-like machine geared for business, that we flourish and are the best we can be in everything we do.


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