“The social responsibility of business is to increase its profits.” That was the opening salvo of a September 1970 article published in The New York Times by Economist Milton Friedman. Political and business leaders alike welcomed Friedman’s message in a politically conservative era marked by oppressive inflation and climbing fuel prices.
That ushered in the rampant merger-and-acquisition frenzy of the 1980’s and 1990’s where big companies bought small ones to wring out profit. Think Gordon Gecko’s, “greed is good” manifesto. Leaders rested their conscience knowing that they were bringing results to shareholders – regardless of the impact on society or the environment.
Recently, however, there has been an explosion of interest in defining purpose beyond the pursuit of profit. Executives are becoming acutely aware of their role as stewards of the organization’s purpose. In pursuit of that purpose, they balance return to shareholders with decisions that, at least in the short-term, may cost the company through reduced revenues or increased costs.
In keeping with purpose-driven leadership, we’ve compiled the most compelling titles with the help of our friend Rachel McKinney. Rachel is a passionate leader who is pursuing her own purpose-driven leadership mission in Cape Town, South Africa. You can read more about her work on the Harvest of Hope project that helps urban farmers supply produce to local markets. Here are the books we’ve selected to help you pursue your purpose-drive leadership path.
What it’s about: We live in a ‘what-driven’ society. We measure ourselves by answering, “What do you do for a living?” or “What kind of car do you drive?” Spaulding makes the case to focus instead on the ‘who.’ “Who am I?” “Who do I impact?” “Who do I want my children to be?”
Why pick it up: To remind us that in the long run it’s the ‘who’ questions that will give our lives more meaning and purpose.
2. The Advantage: Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else In Business by Patrick Lencioni
What it’s about: A compelling case for why organizations that thrive in the 21st century do so by focusing their efforts on organizational health over organizational smarts.
Why pick it up: For the brutally honest assessment it asks you to make about your own organization, and the practical tools to achieve your own organizational health.
3. Mission: How the Best in Business Break Through by Michael Hayman and Nick Giles
What it’s about: It redefines the entrepreneur as a social agent of change. What was bad about business can be good when you clearly define, build and communicate your organizational purpose.
Why pick it up: This is a must-read. The most inspirational chapter is, ironically, the one on Failure.
4. Conscious Capitalism: Liberating the Heroic Spirit of Business by John Mackey and Raj Sisodia
What it’s about: A vision of profit as by-product of treating all stakeholders and the environment as ends and not means. It includes waves of great examples of world-changing businesses.
Why pick it up: To learn how pioneers of change are reshaping the world’s view of capitalism. Don’t start your business plan without it!
5. Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown
What it’s about: This book teaches you a lifestyle of picking your focus, serving those around you through mission-driven leadership, and being great at one thing: you.
Why pick it up: It reminds us that by investing in fewer things we have the satisfying experience of making significant progress in the things that matter the most. This is a great tool for anyone feeling overwhelmed by life or with too many options.
6. Leadership and Self-Deception: Getting Out of the Box by The Arbinger Institute
What it’s about: The book is written like a novel with a shocking revelation. Simply put, this book will change your entire paradigm about how we treat others. It’s not a fluffy read, but a powerful tool for self-examination.
Why pick it up: Ideally, pick this one up in partnership with your team. It would be a great book club read because you will love it and want to share!
7. Firms of Endearment: How World-Class Companies Profit from Passion and Purpose by Raj Sisodia, Jag Sheth and David Wolfe
What it’s about: Hard science and 30 case studies of companies that proved the ROI of a stakeholder relationship business model.
Why pick it up: To understand the business case for dropping the shareholder-biased purpose for business.
What it’s about: 13 quick chapters outlining how our innate desire for impact, personal growth and community impact is changing the world.
Why pick it up: Because “running a company now without purpose is as reckless as in the early 90s without technology,” says the author.
If you include yourself among those called to build an economy that does good while doing well, these picks are your call to action.
Question: What books have inspired you toward a purpose-driven leadership journey?