Leadership
‘Lead With We’:
How to Drive Business Growth Through Collectivized Purpose

Business leaders are best positioned to facilitate meaningful change — not only for our bottom lines, but for the collective good. Together, we will create a transcendent practice of business that restores and protects the natural and social systems on which all our futures depend.

For the first time in human history, we have together created a confluence of crises — environmental, economic and sociopolitical — that threaten our own survival. But during the recent pandemic, we all learned firsthand that when those of us in influential positions — e.g., business leaders and consumers — exert a massive, shared effort, there is little we can’t achieve. We must now extend the urgent and necessary COVID-19 response we undertook to solve our other, equally critical challenges — starting with the climate emergency and economic and social inequality.

In the face of these multiple worldwide crises, we’re primed for the most expansive and substantive global economic evolution we’ve experienced since the Industrial Revolution. Business leaders are best positioned to facilitate meaningful change not only for our bottom lines — but for the collective good.

It’s about time we start telling a different story along those lines. Editing, rewriting and revising the whole business narrative.

This movement is well underway, in part now defined by the evolution of sustainability to encompass the realm of regeneration. But what we’re doing — simply shifting business from profit alone to prioritize purpose — isn’t nearly enough, fast enough; not anymore. We must now embrace a revolutionary new mindset, narrative and model of capitalism. Together, we must all Lead With We.

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This revolution turns on the power of collectivized purpose, in which all stakeholders work together to protect the integrity of the whole — social, economic and natural ecosystems — so that all constituents may thrive. All stakeholders here denote all “shareholders” in our collective future. People. Planet. All its species. A slew of studies and independent research demonstrates that companies serving the We reward their shareholders with extraordinary returns — from nine to fourteen times higher than the S&P 500.

But Lead With We isn’t just a metric for measuring traditional (financial) growth. It serves at once as a new point of departure for all stakeholders in our future; a process prescription and decision-making engine that redefines the role of consumers, business leaders and entrepreneurs; and a higher-order aspiration that reconnects humanity and the Earth on which it depends.

It answers the now-imperative question of how We can and must work With each other to avoid (together) imminent catastrophe, and deliver on the promise of humanity to co-create a regenerative and abundant future. And how the leadership of this movement can and must fall to business. Because only business has the reach, resources — and, frankly, the responsibility — to tackle our crises at scale.

Simon Mainwaring details the 'Virtuous Spiral of Collectivized Purpose in Action' at SB'21 San Diego on October 20 | Image credit: Sustainable Brands

To visualize the Lead With We paradigm, picture a spiral with “Me” at the narrow bottom and “We” at the wide top. Let’s call this a “Virtuous” Spiral of Collectivized Purpose in Action. The Spiral takes leaders of all kinds through each of five stages, widening collaborative action and impact in each — collaboration is the key. Before every new initiative, before every communication, every strategy and activation, we ask ourselves, “Who’s this With?” and “How wide a ‘We’ can we serve here?”

This of course starts with reimagining and re-engineering leadership itself to encompass more than traditional, profit-only metrics to determine growth and success. Here, we measure our growth by the “breadth of our With” and the “width of our We”: How much of the collective are we caring about, listening to, cooperating With, and serving overall?

As we proceed up through the Spiral, we retool our company’s internal culture. What are the best practices for working With our own teams and supply chain partners? How do we create a truly “We”-based company bolstered by a well-articulated purpose entrenched across all our departments, brands, LOBs and regions, co-created and co-owned by everyone internally and embedded as a touchstone for all decisions and actions?

(Although it will express itself in infinitely varying ways depending on a business’s origins, passions, industries and expertise, all purpose in this new paradigm is the same purpose, after all: To serve the We.)

Next, we build on that collaboration externally, architecting sturdy community movements based on shared purpose — our business values aligned with our customers, communities and stakeholders we serve.

We Lead these societal conversations With all our partners, and continually expand the scope of our impact by collaborating carefully but widely — With each other, With industry consortiums, With governments and NGOs, With cross-sector alliances. Even With our ostensible rivals in pre-competitive collaborations.

Together this way, we will create a transcendent practice of business — up and down the Spiral — that restores and protects the natural and social systems on which all our futures depend.

If you want to Lead With We in your business and life, you can find tools, resources and more information at LeadWithWe.com.

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