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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
— 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
and economic and social
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
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
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
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
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
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.
Published Nov 9, 2021 1pm EST / 10am PST / 6pm GMT / 7pm CET
Simon Mainwaring is the author of Lead With We, the Wall Street Journal bestseller that shows how companies address purpose, sustainability, and climate challenges in ways that build their business. He’s the founder and CEO of the award-winning strategic brand consultancy, We First, that’s a B Corp ‘Best For The World’ Honoree and a Real Leaders Top 50 keynote speaker in the World. He hosts the influential ‘Lead With We’ podcast, is a columnist for the CMO Network in Forbes, and wrote the New York Times bestseller, We First. He’s been a Featured Expert and Jury Member for the Sustainable Development Goals at the Cannes Lions Festival and U.S. One Show for Sustainable Development.
This article, produced in cooperation with the Sustainable Brands editorial team, has been paid for by one of our sponsors.