Embracing noble-purpose leadership

In 1970, Robert Greenleaf introduced the concept of "servant leadership" as an improvement over the traditional command-and-control model. Over the years, research has shown that organizations and individuals perform better when leaders prioritize their teams over personal ambitions. However, in today's rapidly evolving world, the narrative of servant leadership is no longer as effective as it once was. Burnout, increased busyness, and less hierarchical workplaces have necessitated a new approach to leadership that focuses on purpose-driven impact. In this blog, we explore the concept of "noble-purpose leadership" inspired by the Harvard Business Review article by Lisa Earle McLeod and Elizabeth Lotardo.

Understanding Noble-Purpose Leadership

Noble-purpose leadership centers around shared pursuits of causes larger than oneself, such as the organization's mission, its customers, or the community. Instead of simply serving others, leaders and teams strive to create a positive impact on their constituents. This approach empowers leaders to make strategic decisions that align with the organization's purpose, rather than being driven by a need to please everyone.

  • Employee Interactions

In traditional servant leadership, managers often ask their team members what they can do to help them be successful, leading to an exhausting list of action items. In contrast, noble-purpose leaders calibrate their language to focus on shared goals. By asking questions like "What do you need to be successful in accomplishing our goal?" and "What help will you need to get there?", the leader positions themselves to have a positive impact without taking sole responsibility for support.

For example, consider a marketing team leader tasked with a challenging campaign. In a servant leadership approach, they may ask their team, "What support do you need from me to achieve the campaign's goals?" The result could be an overwhelming number of requests for assistance. However, by adopting a noble-purpose leadership mindset, the leader reframes the question, asking, "How can we collectively achieve our goal of positively impacting our customers through this campaign?" This subtle shift empowers the team members to think about their roles as contributors to a greater purpose, fostering a sense of ownership and collaboration.

  • Decision Making

Solely trying to please others in decision-making is an unsustainable approach that can lead to burnout and entitlement. Noble-purpose leaders, instead, frame decisions around the impact on their constituents. By asking "What impact will this have?" and "How will this affect our people or customers?", leaders can make tough decisions that align with the organization's purpose and long-term goals.

For instance, a technology company faces a dilemma when deciding whether to prioritize a project that would serve a large existing customer or a new opportunity that aligns with their noble purpose of making technology accessible to underserved communities. In a servant leadership approach, the leader may feel pressured to prioritize the existing customer's request to maintain their satisfaction. However, adopting noble-purpose leadership, the leader evaluates the potential impact of each decision on their overall purpose. Choosing the opportunity that aligns with their larger goal may result in better outcomes for the company's long-term mission and reputation.

  • Coaching

Effective coaching is essential for any leader, but it can become challenging when added to an already busy workload. Noble-purpose leadership shifts the focus from coaching those who need it the most to investing time where it will have the most significant impact. By identifying the most coachable individuals, leaders can nurture high and mid-performers, leading to overall improved team performance.

For example, a sales manager responsible for a team of diverse performers may feel compelled to invest most of their coaching time in those struggling to meet targets. However, by adopting noble-purpose leadership, the manager reframes their approach. They now ask, "Where will my coaching time have the biggest impact in driving positive outcomes for our customers and the business?" This shift leads to dedicating more time to coaching high-performers on their highest-value opportunities and empowering mid-performers through peer-to-peer collaboration. This strategic coaching approach optimizes the team's performance while creating a culture of continuous improvement.

Servant leadership was a transformative step towards a more compassionate work environment, but the evolution does not end there. Noble-purpose leadership is the next leap, where leaders and teams unite in a shared pursuit of making a difference. At Purpose Communications, we believe in supporting companies as they embrace this impactful leadership approach. Together, we can create a future where purpose-driven organizations drive innovation, resilience, and lasting meaning for all stakeholders involved.

As a comms agency, Purpose Communications is committed to partnering with organizations that share our vision of making a positive impact on society. We offer purpose-driven communication strategies, authentic storytelling, and stakeholder engagement to help businesses elevate their noble-purpose initiatives. Our team is dedicated to empowering companies in their pursuit of creating a meaningful and lasting difference in the world. 

Together, let's embrace noble-purpose leadership and inspire a brighter future for everyone.