The COVID crisis has disrupted any notion of business as usual, but it has also provided an opportunity to re-evaluate and re-focus, presenting a window of opportunity to consider the purpose of business in the twenty-first century. Of course, many organisations have long been finding ways to prioritise purpose alongside profit, taking responsibility to care for employees, customers, and communities.
In recent times this emphasis on purpose has increased further, shining a spotlight on the relationship of business to core human values, to the direction of society and the future of the planet. Diversity, sustainability, creativity, and solidarity are among the values that have come to the fore and leaders have been judged on their performance as role models. Our present moment presents a window of opportunity to consider the meaning of good business and determine how organisations will go forward.
Character and purpose
We believe that leaders with character qualities such as resilience, kindness, humility and hope are crucial for organisations to navigate present challenges and ensure future growth. It takes effort—like learning any new skill—but these qualities can be developed over time. A fundamental hypothesis of our work is that character plays a crucial role in good leadership and in embedding values and purpose in organisations. If we are serious about integrating aspiration with action, character is key.
The human difference
When we talk about values and purpose in organisations, we are talking about people. If organisations can be said to have their own corporate personality it is only by way of analogy with the personal nature of human life. This seems strikingly obvious, but in a technological world the full extent of the human dimension is easily overlooked. Behaviours, mindsets, culture – these are all part of a picture that centres on who we are as human beings. And who we are becoming.
Character is unique – a mosaic of different qualities that combine in a distinct way in each of us. To focus on character is not to impose conformity from without but alignment from within. Our character is who we are at the deepest level, how we consistently think, feel, and act, and the way we embody our deepest commitments. Character qualities like kindness, humility, empathy, and love are central to what it means to flourish as human beings, and they underpin collaboration and diversity.
Industry Research Partnerships
Supported by the John Templeton Foundation, and in partnership with the Forward Institute, we are currently conducting a three-year £2.6m research project into character, culture, and leadership in UK businesses. Our research will involve:
- A widescale survey of 3,000+ professionals to explore how good leadership is perceived within organisations and across sectors.
- An analysis of 220 UK firms to identify the values that drive their strategy, operations and culture.
- 120 in-depth interviews with leaders at different levels across organisations.
- A validated model of the developmental culture of organisations, specifically as concerns values, character and leadership.
Our aim is to advance responsible leadership in organisations and across business sectors. Rigorous industry-based research sits at the heart of this endeavour, and would not be possible without the support of our industry partners.
Good leadership isn’t just effective but ethical. It leads to human flourishing. And that isn’t surprising because real human progress is moral progress.
Vice Chairman and Head of Impact Investing at Brookfield Asset Management, Former Governor of the Bank of England (2013-20)