4 Key Findings from The Power of Purpose Symposium

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By Gillian Secrett, CEO, Møller Institute, Cynthia Cherrey, President and CEO of the International Leadership Association, Rebecca Curry, Senior Community Development Specialist, ICF, Rachel Thomason, Programme Manager, Møller Institute 

The Power of Purpose Symposium was launched in 2017 as a joint venture between the Møller Institute and the International Leadership Association (ILA). The symposium grew out of a need to bring theory and practice together to expand our understanding of the power that purpose can have in an organization. 

The symposium specifically focused on exploring the critical question: How can we ignite organizational purpose to drive business performance and societal impact?

Case Studies 

Detailed below are three separate cases analyzed by symposium participants. The cases emerged from the discussion work using this outlined model: (1) the context in which the organization operates, (2) the unique capabilities of the company, (3) the needs of the organization’s customers, and (4) the motivations that drive the organization’s employees to care.

These cases provide insight into how businesses ignite organizational purpose to drive business performance and societal impact. These cases represent examples of the challenges and opportunities in fostering purpose-led organizations. Each case was selected and analyzed by a table of seven to eight participants and subsequently presented to the entire symposium. Participants then had an opportunity to ask questions and provide feedback on each case. 

Case Study 1: Royal Air Force’s Tedder Leadership Academy 

The UK’s Royal Air Force (RAF) Tedder Leadership Academy was selected by a table of participants to analyze its purpose and the dilemmas that it faces in embedding organizational purpose. The RAF is a part of the UK government and operates within a larger coalition of countries (NATO) to keep the UK secure and protected. The Tedder Leadership Academy provides leadership training and education to all ranks of the Royal Air Force. The participants utilized the Framework of Organisational Purpose to uncover the context, capabilities, customer-base, and motivations that drive the organization. The group uncovered that the Academy operates within a world with rapidly changing technology that is increasingly affecting how the military operates and the skills needed by service members. The Tedder Academy services the entirety of the RAF; it aims to support people to be their best selves and do their best work. The Academy is charged with helping to empower service members and inspire confidence. It is uniquely equipped with the ability to invest in service personnel and provide them with consistent insight on leadership. Staff members at the academy are motivated to transfer skills to Royal Air Force members to prepare them for crisis situations and ensure that each individual has the opportunity to rise as a leader. 

The Tedder Leadership Academy’s purpose is ‘to inspire individuals to be the best they can be’. However, in attempting to deliver this purpose, participants believe the Tedder Academy faces several challenges that need to be overcome. First, the Tedder team is small and is trying to influence an organization of 35,000 people. Second, the Academy primarily focuses on training officers although the Academy’s mandate is to train all ranks of the military. The group concluded and advised that as a result of the discussions, leadership needs to occur at all levels of the military, both officer and enlisted, in order for the military to properly deliver its mandate. 

Case Study 2: Schoonbee Langoed

South Africa’s grape industry A second organization analyzed by symposium participants was Schoonbee Langoed, a South African family-owned farm that produces citrus, grapes, and crops. The company’s context, capabilities, customer needs, and motivations align with their purpose to be the first to market with unparalleled table grapes and citrus by leveraging innovation. Schoonbee Langoed operates in a world of increasingly conscious capitalism and advanced technology. Environmentally, there is a growing concern over climate change and food insecurity. Schoonbee Langoed’s customers are concerned with the traceability of their produce and want to know that it was produced with the highest levels of integrity and quality. 

The company is unique in their unparalleled high quality of produce and the advanced technology that it utilizes. They employ netting to protect fruit from potential environmental damages, utilize the latest technology in their packaging, have erected a solar power- generating plant, and installed a computerized irrigation system in their vineyard. They also have the competitive advantage of a two-week window to pick grapes at a prime time in the Southern Hemisphere as a result of their geographic proximity. They use that time period to supply a large part of the world with grapes before other farms. The company and its employees are motivated to be environmentally friendly and create a positive social impact. 

One of the challenges discussed when embedding organizational purpose at a farm like Schoonbee Langoed’s was how to make manual work meaningful. Schoonbee Langoed strives to help employees link their jobs to meaning and so they encourage seeing the task of picking grapes keeps people around the world from going hungry. That task is necessary in order for people to be fed; their owners and employees can feel proud that their produce is resulting in people leading healthier lives. However, the question arose in the group of whether or not other farms can find purpose when their produce contributes to products that have a negative impact on society, such as tobacco. 

Case Study 3: The Møller Institute 

A final case that was examined at the symposium was the Møller Institute itself, which was established at Churchill College in 1992 to extend the access and reach of the world-renowned University of Cambridge to positively impact society. Danish shipping magnate Mærsk Mc-Kinney Møller’s vision and benefaction to Churchill College created a ‘Centre for Excellence’ to unite business and academia for executive education. The Møller Institute was inspired by a sense of gratitude to Sir Winston Churchill for his role in supporting the freedom of Denmark at the end of the second world war. 

The Møller Institute, with its values-based leadership approach, is unique with its genuine purpose behind its work ‘to inspire individuals to be the best they can be’. The Institute develops leaders and organizations to transform themselves amidst global uncertainty, and international and innovative competition to create real value for all stakeholders. As a growing enterprise, a key challenge that the Møller Institute faces is developing internal structure and processes to maximize the potential of its emerging market position. Participants concluded that leading with the team’s engagement and already purpose-driven attitude was key to the successful alignment and integration of the education and residential elements of the business to deliver its customer promise: ‘you are at the heart of everything that we do’. 

Key Findings: Key Symposium Themes & Stakeholder Impacts: 

  1. Employees: Engaging and attracting purpose-led employees is critical 
  1. Organization: Embracing purpose encourages organizational stability and longevity 
  1. Leadership: Fostering collective capacity to engage all in meaningful work, including leaders who are emotionally and professionally engaged in living this purpose 
  1. Environment/context: The changing landscape of the 21st century is increasing the value of purpose 

As such, the connected nature of these four areas of purpose means that it is only when considered and implemented all together that the true power of purpose can be felt on an individual, organizational and contextual level. Working with all these areas ignites purpose to drive business performance due to the increased levels of employee and customer engagement as a result of being purpose-driven and motivated by meaningful work. As a by-product, the organization will have greater longevity, increasing performance that will promote long-term impact.

The Power of Purpose Symposium reinforced the capacity, growing interest, and engagement of businesses to drive business performance, and at the same time create a positive social impact. The two actions are not mutually exclusive. Company testimonials, data, and academic research from the symposium suggest that both will occur when organizations embrace purpose. The ignition of organizational purpose is a journey of company contemplation that includes organizational self-reflection, the crafting and embedding of purpose, and bolstering of purpose-led leaders. While the symposium introduced a road map for companies to follow to ignite their organizational purpose, each company’s path to purpose is unique and must reflect their individualized experience, vision and ambition for their business. 

At the same time, a new generation of the work force is demanding work that is meaningful and creates a positive impact: employees want to know that their work is contributing to the advancement of society. Organizations also have additional incentives to create societal impact that include business longevity and profit maximization by providing products and services that generate positive value for society while contributing to a more sustainable planet. By embracing organizational purpose, companies no longer have to make the difficult choice between creating societal impact or driving business performance: alignment of organizational purpose facilitates both. 


Leading at the Edge, the 2020 annual global conference of the International Leadership Association (ILA) will take place November 5-8 in San Francisco, California. With 450+ presentations, workshops, papers, and panels, the ILA's annual conference is one of the largest international gatherings exploring leadership, the ways that we lead, and what we expect from leaders and followers. We invite business and community leaders, authors and researchers, educators, students, coaches, and organizational development professionals to join us this November. Download the 2020 Call for Submissions and start preparing your proposal. The submission deadline is 1 February 2020. Learn more here.

This is a redacted version of a White Paper that came out of the Power of Purpose II symposium. Download the full report here.

More About ILA and the Møller Institute:

International Leadership Association: Bringing People Together For Better Leadership Now The International Leadership Association is the global network for those who study, teach, and practice leadership. ILA brings together thousands of leadership professionals from multiple sectors, disciplines, professions, cultures, and generations – to advance leadership knowledge and practice for a better world. 

Møller Institute: The people and the place for your leadership and people development. Our Purpose: ‘To inspire individuals to be the best they can be, to accelerate the performance of the organizations which they serve and have a positive impact on society and the environment. Through our work, we covenant all profits to Churchill College to support the education of future leaders.’

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