Back when I embarked on my career in the wine industry, it’s fair to say that conversations about a business’s role in the world beyond its own market were rare. These were the days when someone like Anita Roddick, founder of The Body Shop, was promoting the idea that business could be a force for good in the world – and getting sideways looks from just about everyone else in the business community for holding to such a strange notion.

In situations where a business was committed to looking beyond itself – for instance, to engaging its people and involving them in the business, as did the innovative family wine company in which I was employed – there was really nowhere to turn to get that leadership development and training outside the organisation.

Not a lot had changed when Malcolm and I founded the Global Leadership Foundation in 2003 with the purpose of developing leaders and community through raising emotional health levels across the globe.

Since then, there has certainly been growing interest in and commitment to seeing business as having a larger purpose. B Lab was established in 2006 to ‘serve a global movement of people using business as a force for good’ and has certified a growing number of B Corporations materially and practically committed to this cause.

At the same time, it’s fair to say the majority of leadership development and management training courses, and especially MBA programs, have continued to maintain a fairly narrow focus on profit as a business’s reason for being.

However, I’m pleased to report that things are changing.

Earlier this year I enrolled in the ‘Inner MBA’ program, developed by Sounds True in conjunction with Linkedin, Wisdom 2.0 and MindfulNYU. This program is targeted specifically at helping leaders of all sorts to develop themselves and explore and understand their purpose first, and through that personal growth inspire and support their people and organisations to make a difference.

Interestingly, the guiding principles of Global Leadership Foundation – self-realisation, collaboration and stewardship – are showing up in the Inner MBA curriculum. The first trimester focuses on self, understanding what drives and motivates us, what impact we have and how we can be the change we want to see. The second trimester is immersion into the team: the people in the organisation and how to best engage them. And the third trimester is all about the organisation: its purpose, its reason for being and its contribution to the world.

Then, quite recently, I was invited onto the faculty of an initiative of Small Giants Academy, a program called the Mastery of Business & Empathy (MBE). This program aims to ‘reinvent and extend the traditional MBA’ by equipping leaders with a ‘renewed and regenerative understanding of leadership … to successfully lead a purposeful organisation and chart a hopeful, galvanising vision for the future’.

Are you seeing some overlap in the language of these programs?

Better still, the premise of the education in these programs is not about experts telling others how things should be, but rather a peer-to-peer exploration of what is important, what drives and motivates us and what perspectives we share.

It is with a real sense of gratitude and joy that we are seeing more and more leadership development programs like these – and the conversations around them – mirroring much of our thinking and our way of seeing the world.

We aren’t, of course, claiming sole credit for this shift. The concept of the purpose-driven organisations has been around for a long time, particularly in the not-for-profit environment. And we know that consumers, and indeed shareholders, are becoming increasingly active in their desire to the see organisations they deal with playing a more responsible role in the impact they have on the world.

However, from our perspective, there is now a realisation that the work we do with leaders – the focus on raising emotional health, on working with others in a way that engages and enables them and on working with everyone in order to ensure that we end up with a planet that is healthy and sustainable – is underpinned by an increasing number of programs with similar visions for the future.


Image credit: Jessica Pamp on