A few decades ago the notion of the Triple Bottom Line became commonplace. The phrase introduced the concept that businesses, particularly global brands, have a responsibility to ensure that their business and their business practices not only render to them (internal) economy prosperity, but that their business practices safeguards the environment, and delivers social responsibility (external). The Three E’s – economy, ecology and equity.

More recently, the notion of sustainability and climate change has become a global dictate for ensuring and assessing the actions of corporations – again as a measure of ensuring that corporations take responsibility in and for their global business practices. This ensure that in operating their businesses, they are not in any way depleting the environment and livelihoods, nor negatively impacting the lives of future generations.

As usual, naysayers thought it was all hogwash – a liberal, goody-goody notion that some had latched onto to make their businesses look good. A notion that was good for shareholder value and drenched in profit-making with little thought for ecology and equity.

But I beg to differ.

You see, the future is not only a place we are going, it is also a place we are creating – and as such there can be a trade off between the present and tomorrow, depending on how we live, and ultimately how we lead and how we do business.

What am I driving at?

I am very much interested in the idea of transformational business leadership as opposed to transactional business leadership. My premise is that business leadership should be transformational and purposeful, and not merely transactional. Your business leadership should have a positive and resounding transformational impact on your internal (staff) and external (clients, shareholders, and partners) stakeholders, to the extent that the leadership positively impacts society at large. Not my responsibility, I hear you say. Well, let’s look at the business landscape and how this notion is being played out in the business sector – and particularly by two women in business.

PwC released its 19th Annual CEO Global Survey at the recently concluded World Economic Forum in Davos. Shannon Schuyler, President of PwC Foundation and Chief Corporate Responsibility and Purpose Officer, in an article in the Huffington Post, wrote that the 19th CEO Survey had revealed that while CEOs and companies may define purpose differently, for many ‘purpose is why their business exists’. More importantly, the CEOs noted that they recognise that companies have a wider responsibility to provide value to all stakeholders: ‘business profits and societal prosperity are inseparable: purpose is what aligns and unites them.’

Ms Shannon words were music to my ears. Essentially, global business leaders accept that business is not merely a secular, transactional act, but an intellectual and purposeful act to respond profoundly to societal needs. And that is why you need transformational leaders, leaders with unusual, far sighted ways of thinking and doing, to lead businesses – and ultimately – to shape societies.

Jen Lim is the CEO and Chief Happiness Officer of Delivering Happiness – a company she co-founded to inspire science-based happiness, passion and purpose at home, work and in everyday life. For Delivering Happiness, companies can successfully use happiness as a business model to increase productivity and profitability, proving that companies with a higher sense of purpose outperform others by 400%.

Here’s the premise

My premise is that the higher sense of purpose, the ‘why’ of your business, is the strategic and leadership responsibility of the business leader to know, own, cascade and secure buy-in into by internal and external stakeholders. People generally are always pursuing happiness. They want to be part of something big and bigger than themselves – and what a better place to know and find that than the place where they spend two-thirds of their day, i.e. work?

For me, it will take transformational leadership to build the business of your dreams. It will take transformational leadership to have a sustainable business. And it will take transformational leadership to have a truly loyal, dynamic and productive set of internal stakeholders – as well as a set of external stakeholders that render you and your business profit.

The transformational business leader is concerned about all their stakeholders – the enterprise itself, the clients, their staff, their business partners – and they go out of their way to identify the needs of each one, after which they seek to arrive at a place of business operations that delivers joint value to all stakeholders.

Ms. Schuyler delivered superbly on an enthralling Twitter chat on 18th February about using purpose to drive business. She demonstrated explicitly that in businesses, purpose leads to more innovation, focus, human intensity and quality – and that each of these drive profit.

Business therefore is not only a commercial transaction for financial gain but also a potentially transformational endeavour for financial and societal good. Business is purposeful, and there is business in purpose.

No more articles