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Purposeful Leadership

Purposeful Leadership

This morning’s first session was a fascinating insight into Unilever and the thinking & practice of how they build purpose, resilience and collective leadership to solve commercial challenges and succeed. For me there was something very fundamental and important in what was being shared that was applicable to organisation large and small. Essentially, I’d describe it as follows…

Better connected collective leadership builds more sustainable organisations

The key building blocks in here being purpose, resilience and highly performing top teams.


Tim Munden (VP HR for UK & Ireland at Unilever)shared the Unilever context and challenges, positioning well the importance of being led by an overarching purpose to what we do.

Given the market volatilities and shifting consumer behaviours for a global brand such as Unilever, clarity of purpose not only helps connect leadership but also helps the whole organisation to navigate such challenges. Purpose drives successful business.

However, it challenges us to lead from a different and deeper place and to connect with a purpose that brings a long term view. In doing so you may find that individuals don’t feel that the purpose is congruous with their own purpose. The challenge is then one of how can you let them leave to pursue their own purpose.

All of this very much fits with my own philosophy of leadership and work but it also prompted some new and unanswered questions…

How clear is your organisational purpose and what is it driving?

What’s the lifespan of your “purpose”? How long and enduring does it need to be?

I suspect going beyond the traditional corporate vision & mission work, that these questions are far more challenging to leadership teams.  We have to delve into these aspects to better understand our leadership and the sustainability of our organisations.


“People who are engaged in their purpose are better able to be resilient”

The connection between resilience and purpose was well made and I think there is a constant reminder in the above quote from Tim Munden.  What was also heartening was the Unilever focus on mental wellbeing. I got a strong sense of a journey rather than an end but the focus on both winning (succeeding) and caring showed how well they had married commercial and human interests.

One of the key phrases that has stuck with me was…

“Are you spending time on the things that are most meaningful to you in your life?”

A question always worth coming back to don’t you think.

Highly Performing Top Teams

Nick Pope (former Global Learning Director at Unilever and now MD of The Academy of High Performance Teams) then took us into the challenges and need for collective leadership.

A lot of this resonated with Team Coaching and the work Dr Peter Hawkins has done on Systemic Team Coaching as well I think with older work from Katzenback & Smith.  You can also find some further resources on Nicks’ company’s website here.

The challenges facing top teams can be quite exhausting but just emphasises further the need for resilience and supported development. In doing so we need to :

Help teams work through issues with some degree of “friction & noise”

Focus on the connections between people much more than the “parts”

Help people in teams open up and share their personal stories authentically and safely

I think we all recognise that there is a huge challenge in some organisations to starting any of the above. That’s possibly where our own purposeful leadership can play a role facilitating this to happen.



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