Bulldog Bites

News and Views from the University of Redlands

The arc of purposeful leadership

At the 11th Annual Business Roundtable, Thomas Horan, Senecal Endowed Dean of the School of Business, speaks on the school’s renewed commitment to developing purposeful leaders and companies. (Photo by Carlos Puma)

On May 2, the University of Redlands held its 11th Annual Business Roundtable in Newport Beach, California, featuring Thomas Horan, Senecal Endowed Dean of the School of Business, speaking on “The arc of purposeful leadership.” Here are excerpts from his remarks.

When I joined the University of Redlands as dean of the School of Business about two years ago, I began a strategic planning process with my colleagues, and we focused on critical 21st century business skills. Through this process, we identified the need and value for a leadership initiative, in particular, a Purposeful Leadership Initiative.

We launched this fall, and we are grateful for the founding support of individuals such as David Banta ’63, ’65, Mark Banta ’89, Chuck Wilke ’64, and William Mince ’80. Since then, we have launched a new master’s degree and several research and outreach programs that are being managed by the newly renamed Banta Center for Ethical and Purposeful Leadership.

So, we are off and running.

Turning to the substance of purposeful leadership, it is perhaps best articulated by the deft quote from management theorist and consultant Peter Drucker: “management is about doing things right; leadership is about doing the right things.”

How then do you parse “doing the right things”? We have chosen to parse this by focusing on what we call the “arc of purposeful leadership,” ranging from self-management to team management to representing an organization in society. As important as these elements are to the “arc,” the interrelation is equally important, and this interrelation should be fueled by purpose, ethics, and passion at each and every level.

Beginning with one

Let's begin at the individual level. It all starts with the person, whether an employee, a manager, or a vice president. We frame this as self-management with four critical factors: character, competence, commitment, and compassion.

In character, we can think of the values, ethics, and philosophy that each of us has in us and brings to the job. These are critical aspects of life in general and to organizations. What are your underlying values? What are your ethics, and how does that affect your decisions? Are your priorities aligned with your company’s mission? As Steve Job’s remarked: “Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do.” Finding this alignment is critical; financial success can be a motivator, but as Jobs notes, it is often not the sole factor.

In terms of competency, what are your strengths? What can you bring to your organization, and are there weaknesses that need attention? What is your level of commitment and passion to your work? And, in terms of compassion, can you look at organizational issues through another’s eyes?

Do you know the two words that can have a major impact on the reduction of lawsuits against hospitals? Those two words are “I’m sorry.” Such collaborative conversation programs in hospitals have led to a fairly dramatic reduction in legal claims and costs, as well as successful negotiation of favorable settlements for patients. Compassion is a valuable asset.

The power of small groups

The legendary anthropologist Margaret Mead once noted, “never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

Fast forward, Google has taken a close look at effective teams, and its findings are revealing. Five factors dominate effective teams: trust (which it called “psychological safety”), meaning, dependability, structure and clarity, and impact. It was less about who was on the team and more about the focus and interaction of the team. Similarly, my colleague Paul Zak wrote in his award-winning book The Trust Factor that connecting with a company’s purpose is one of the key factors to high performing organizations. Teams are the connector point for achieving alignment between personal purpose and the organization’s purpose.

And teams now dominate the production of work. One study, published in The Harvard Business Review found that ‘‘the time spent by managers and employees in collaborative activities has ballooned by 50 percent or more’’ over the last two decades and that, at many companies, more than three-quarters of an employee’s day is spent communicating with colleagues.

Getting teams right is critical to a company’s success, and connecting teams to the purpose of an organization is a core strategy to achieving high performance.

The changing organization

Moving from teams to the organization, the mission and value proposition of the company is the greatest factor affecting all levels. What value is the organization creating? This is a general question, not just a question for private companies. For sure, a company’s value can be expressed in the products, services, profit, and so forth. And it is also true for nonprofits, for nonprofits deliver value and that value is supported by funders and patrons. And it is also true for governmental agencies, as they are chartered to give value to citizens.

Having and knowing the value is not enough, of course. The company must deliver on that value proposition with a clear strategy, aligning individual and collective strengths to the achievement of that value, driving performance through value- and mission-connected metrics, and doing so through the interwoven dynamics of individuals and teams.

All of this is done through an ongoing commitment to refinement and change, as adaption is a critical part of continued success. The driving question here is how does an organization engage in change? Does it have a culture that embraces and rewards change in order to achieve the best value proposition?

Costco and Sears make an interesting contrast. At Costco, 83% of employees are motivated by the company’s mission and value proposition. Sears, which started with a noble purpose, lost its mission, connection to customer and employees, and its overall value proposition.

The socially responsible company

I had an invitation to brief executives at the Mizuho Bank in Tokyo, Japan, on the “arc of leadership” and its training implications. When I finished, … they pulled out their executive training material, which followed exactly this format and included the societal dimension. For them, as they described, there could be nothing more dishonorable than “losing face.” A company’s losing face (or reputation) is one of the most disgraceful and costly things that can happen, whether in Japan, the United States, or elsewhere. For a closer example, consider the recent plight of Wells Fargo.

We see several factors are critical to the socially responsible company. The first factor is the company’s societal value proposition. The second is corporate responsibility purposes and practices. The third is community and stakeholder engagement and philanthropy.

To sum up, let’s compare our neighboring company Esri (on the positive) with another Southern California enterprise, Michael Avenatti and his firm (on the negative).

Esri was founded by Jack Dangermond and his wife, Laura, in Redlands, California, to develop geographic information systems—“maps”—at first focused on the environment. (Esri was originally an acronym for Environmental Science Research Institute.) It is now the world’s largest vendor of GIS, with a tremendous commitment to businesses and organizations of all types. And, on the societal level, the company has donated its software to nonprofits and educational institutions throughout the world, most recently giving $165 million to preserve a huge swath of land north of Santa Barbara.

Attorney Michael Avenatti co-founded Eagan-Avenatti and espoused protection of victims of civil and employment abuses. He represented many clients in this regard. Yet, unfortunately, as charged, he used these funds to buy planes, houses, and live the high life rather than protect his clients and make the world a better place.

One founder just received the King’s honor in the Netherlands, and the other just received a 36-count indictment. How do we create more Dangermonds and fewer Avenattis?

From concept to action

With the Purposeful Leadership Initiative, we are committed to developing purposeful leaders and companies. Our new Master of Science in Organizational Leadership has purposeful leadership as its core component. We are thrilled that 80 students have signed up for the degree since it was launched in January, with interest spread across the private, nonprofit, and governmental sectors.

With both the purposeful leadership class and our upcoming Purposeful Leadership Academy, we are translating these important concepts into tailored skill development for immediate applicability to companies and communities. Through our 21st Century Speaker Series and related awards (managed by the Banta Center), we are showcasing exemplary companies like TripAdvisor, Esri, and Apple. We also intend to celebrate local company, nonprofit, and governmental leaders who make a difference in the world.

We are very excited about the initiative and appreciate the support we have received. We welcome your input, participation, and collaboration as we power forward with this initiative. My fellow deans and their faculties are already interacting with us as we strive to make purposeful leadership a signature activity, not only for the School of Business but for the entire University.