Leading with a Higher Purpose

February 16, 2012 / General /

By Schon Beechler

My week is filled with stories of leadership from the 29 participants in the global leadership course I am directing for an NGO in Washington. These high potential employees have been identified by top leaders as the future global leaders of the organization. Our job is to help them realize the potential that management sees. 

These participants, from all over the world, share a deep passion for the mission of the organization to help people escape poverty and improve their lives. They are smart, educated in the best schools in the world, and have often left extremely well-paying jobs in the private sector to come here and make a difference.

As I sit here in my hotel room on the third day of our program, I am reflecting on a blog on “What Do Good Global Leaders Do?” http://blogs.hbr.org/cs/2012/01/what_do_good_global_leaders_do.html  

from the Harvard Business Review.  It strikes me that the participants in our course, along with the CEOs in the Harvard study all share a number of characteristics that help define positive leaders:

1. A higher purpose – good global leaders make people feel emotionally engaged and inspire them to achieve the highest goals.

2. Responsiveness to communities – good global leaders build trust in communities that enable them to hire the best employees and work with local stakeholders.

3. Create an internal social fabric enabling good collaboration across borders/levels – good global leaders combine global processes and local processes to connect employees across time and space.

Despite these shared characteristics, we have spent a lot of time this week discussing how to overcome the barriers to doing this positive work.  Participants have the passion and the drive and the “right stuff” of leadership, and yet their efforts are so often thwarted by larger forces in their organization.

As I try to help them to overcome the barriers, it strikes me that we are spending a lot of time and effort trying to “fix” existing organizations that were established in a different time and place. I wonder what the world would look like if we could somehow start fresh, with these global leadership characteristics in mind, and build our organizations, and even perhaps our schools, around a 22nd Century paradigm of global collaboration and sustainability.