The authors argue that it is increasingly important for business leaders to learn how to build companies that are simultaneously purpose-driven, performance-focused, and principles-led. At a time when the pace of change in business is faster than ever, they believe that building organizations with these three characteristics is no longer a choice. Being performance-driven is clearly essential to success; continuous disruption, rapid technological innovation, and turbulence require that today’s leaders build agile organizations with resilient employees in order to achieve superior performance.
But focusing on results alone is not enough. Demographic, cultural, and technological changes have led to a workforce that demands a set of operating principles characterized by core values such as transparency, trust, inclusion, and real-time collaboration to help guide behaviors and decision-making in companies. Finally, studies have shown that millennials are deeply motivated by corporate social responsibility and a compelling sense of purpose. Together, these forces make the case that companies that fail to aspire to align purpose, performance, and principles will also fail to attract the best talent.
Furthermore, to achieve the kind of transformations that today’s fast-moving economy often requires of businesses, executives need engaged, committed employees who have opportunities to contribute their knowledge. Purpose and principles can help engage employees in support of high performance.
The authors acknowledge that while it is easy for executives to say they aspire to build companies that are simultaneously purpose-driven, performance-focused, and principles-led, it is a difficult accomplishment to achieve. There are often inherent tensions and conflicting goals associated with trying to achieve all three aims.
How can executives align purpose, performance, and principles so that they can lead their organizations through major changes? The authors’ research and experience suggest the task requires not only a set of leadership skills that they describe but also five mindsets that encompass the embedded tensions that face leaders of large, complex organizations. Executives must learn to reconcile these tensions by mastering a series of five conflicting yet complementary dualities: urgency and patience; collective and individual accountability; coaching and driving performance; student and teacher; and humility and boldness. One of the authors, Alan Mulally, the former CEO of Ford Motor Co., describes the role these dualities played when he led a successful turnaround of that company.