Leadership for the Future - Creating conscious leaders and purpose-driven organisations (2020)

KDVI Research Team

Leadership for the Future - Creating conscious leaders and purpose-driven organisations

The increasing complexity and interdependency of business environments make the task of leadership in a global interconnected world ever more challenging. 


Future of work trends describe a workforce that is increasingly diverse, dispersed, digital, and dynamic (WEF, 2020). Research on human capital trends also show that employees and organisations are more overwhelmed than ever (Deloitte, 2017). Stress, burnout, loneliness, isolation and informational overload are now mainstream concerns. 


The Covid-19 pandemic has only accelerated these shifts, pushing companies to fast track the adoption of technologies and remote working but also magnifying the human consequences of new ways of working. Broader challenges such as income inequality, climate change, health, migration and poverty put additional pressures on both governments and businesses to contribute to a sustainable future for both people and the planet.


Additionally, there is a need to engage new generations of workers. Millennials and Gen Z will make up about two thirds in the next decade. 84% of millennials say they have experienced burnout at their current job and nearly half of millennials say they have left a job specifically because they felt burned out (Deloitte, 2015Open Access Government, 2018). However, a recent 2020 Deloitte report shows that Millennials are also a resilient generation with “resolve and a vision to build a better future”. Thus, despite facing unprecedented health and economic disruption, there is a strong sense of personal responsibility to take action and have a positive impact on their communities and society. 


Across generations, people are increasingly seeking purpose-driven careers and expecting companies to be authentic and accountable to their values and actions (Gallup, 2016; Deloitte, 2017). According to the recent 2020 Edelman Trust Barometer, 80% respondents stated that they need to trust companies to do the right thing by taking care of their people, communities and the environment; and 78% stated that there is a need for businesses to step up to do so.


These trends are forcing a reset in thinking about how business and leaders operate and to whom they are responsible, with a recalibration from a shareholder to stakeholder-centric business model. Intergovernmental and international organisations are also increasingly advocating approaches such as “conscious capitalism”, B corporations and a triple bottom line of profit, people and planet. 


From trend to imperative


Within the business world, a number of writings observe that shareholders are getting serious about sustainability and observe a growing trend towards implementing environmental, social and governance (ESG) agendas by investors and pension funds (McKinsey 2014Stanford Social Innovation Review, 2018; HBR, 2019). According to a 2018 global survey by FTSE Russell, more than half of global asset owners are already implementing or evaluating ESG considerations in their investment strategy. Recent reports on business performance during Covid 19 also show that companies with ESG risk profiles outperform those with lower ratings (Barrons, 2020).


Purpose-driven organisations – those with a higher organisational purpose beyond financial growth with sustainability at their core – witness higher market share gains and grow on average three times faster than their competitors, all the while achieving higher employee and customer satisfaction (Deloitte, 2019). Employees of companies with a clear purpose also show higher passion and motivation (HBR, 2019), thereby impacting engagement. 


In light of the global issues we are facing, the trends toward sustainability and purpose will soon become imperatives, defining what leadership and sustainable organisations of the future should look like.


Leadership for the Future


We believe that sustainable high performing organisations are those with a higher purpose beyond financial growth and whose mission and values give its people a sense of meaning and engages their support. We believe the leaders we require have the ability to reflect and act on things morally, responsibly and systemically. Such leaders ‘know themselves’ and have an understanding of interrelationships, and know how to work with others, while focusing on superordinate and unifying goals aimed at the long term. 


More specifically, Leadership for the Future requires a shift in mindset and encompasses sustainable and conscious practices related to the following areas:


  • Purpose & values: Driven by a purpose beyond financial growth which is meaningful and motivating. Engages the support of people in the organisation and accountable to communities and societies in which they operate.
  • Performance & sustainability: Take a long term view by balancing short term achievement with sustainability, use IQ, EQ, technology and innovation as key performance drivers, and measure success based on impact on people, profit and planet.
  • Conscious leadership: Leaders who are conscious role models, deeply reflective, committed to serving with humility and empathy, practice sound ethical judgement, are courageous in making difficult decisions, and able to admit and learn from mistakes.
  • Citizenship & stakeholder management: Understand the interconnected relationship of business to society and take responsibility for initiatives that sustain local, national and global environment. Building and sustaining good relationships with all relevant stakeholders in pursuit of sustainable solutions and practices.
  • Healthy culture: Create a psychologically-safe space that supports creativity, adaptability, resilience and wellbeing, and which enables people to address the impact of stress on themselves, their teams and colleagues.


At KDVI, we focus on supporting the human side of Leadership for the Future. We believe that this is the time to renew clarity of purpose and sense of meaning. We believe that trust, the willingness to be vulnerable and the deepening of relationships are the fuel for model leadership and effective stakeholder management. Organisations that have the capabilities to reflect, change, adapt and connect are the beacons in a chaotic, global, virtual world, helping us to move collectively towards a more fair, equitable and sustainable future.


Thinking about purpose and leadership in 2020 and looking ahead to the future, we invite you to reflect on the following questions:


  1. What is your organisation’s purpose? What values guide your organisation’s decisions? 
  2. What are the most important drivers of long-term performance? 
  3. What are the most essential attributes for leadership in the future?
  4. How do you engage with stakeholders when tackling complex challenges? 
  5. How would you describe a healthy performance culture? 


Read further on the Future of Work


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Article Comments

Ann Houston Kelley

Jan 10, 8:13 PM

Excellent proposition for taking your leadership and organisation forward in a smart way for these times. We at KDVI would like to help you get from here to there.

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