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Oct. 5, 2021

95 Purpose-driven leadership is about more than just saying the right words | Mahan Tavakoli Partnering Leadership Insight

95 Purpose-driven leadership is about more than just saying the right words | Mahan Tavakoli Partnering Leadership Insight
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In this episode of Partnering Leadership, Mahan Tavakoli celebrates 100 podcast episodes by going back to the core of it all: purpose-driven leadership. Mahan shares why purpose is becoming an overused buzzword, gives examples of organizations not living up to their purpose, and how we can become genuinely purpose-driven leaders.  


Some highlights:

-Mahan celebrates you, the purpose-driven audience of the Partnering Leadership podcast, in helping it become a top global leadership podcast. 

- 100 episodes of conversations with regional Greater Washington DMV changemakers and global thought leaders 

- Why purpose statements can sometimes be meaningless

- Examples of companies acting in ways not aligned with their purpose.

- Defining purpose-driven leadership

- Critical factors driving purpose-driven organizations and leaders. 


Connect with Mahan Tavakoli:



More information and resources are available at the Partnering Leadership Podcast website: 



Mahan Tavakoli: 

Welcome to partnering leadership. I am so excited to have you along with me on this journey of learning. Where on Tuesdays, I've conversations with magnificent change makers from the greater Washington DC DMV region and on Thursdays with global thought leaders, primarily leadership book authors. 

Now once a month, I also share some of my own leadership perspectives with you and this is one of those solo episodes. But before I get to that, I have to thank you for all of your support over what will soon be 100 conversations. Yes, 100 podcast episodes, conversations with those change-makers and thought-leaders as the podcast has grown and done extremely well, not just in this region, but in the country and globally, we now have a long fat tail.

Which means there are people who listening to this podcast and episodes from early this year, and even episodes from last year, in many instances, binge listening to the conversations that's magnificent because you are sharing these episodes and you're listening to episodes from purpose-driven leaders, with purpose-driven conversations.

So I truly appreciate that in addition to the listeners in a year, Stretching from Hawaii to Alaska and the greater Washington DC region. I do want to give a special shout-out to some of the countries which have this podcast high up on the charts, Australia, Denmark, UK, Lithuania, Belgium, Saudi Arabia, India, Taiwan, Malaysia, and Japan.

So without the listeners of the podcast, it would not be as joyful having these conversations, because I know you are embracing these thoughts, you're embracing them with your own leadership, sharing them with your communities, sharing them with your organization. Your friends and colleagues continue to do so and continue to give me feedback and share any thoughts you have love hearing from you, mahan@mahantavakoli.com. There's also a microphone icon on partneringleadership.com. Really enjoy getting those voice messages. 

Now this episode, I want to talk a little bit about this purpose-driven leadership, which I keep referring to. And at this point it almost sounds like purpose-driven leaders. And purpose have become buzzwords.

And I do want to be mindful of the fact that almost every leader you talk to every organization you look at has a purpose that doesn't necessarily mean anything. Saying we have a purpose and we are purposefully is meaningless. 

So think back a few years ago, Wells Fargo had a vision and a purpose, and they said that their vision and purpose had nothing to do with transactions. I quote " pushing products or getting bigger for the sake of bigness. It's about building lifelong relationships, one customer at a time. " That sounds great. Doesn't it? Actually, Joseph stump, who was the chairman said documents such as, this are rare. These days in corporate America, most companies have a set of vision values, but few for as long as we have had ours, even fewer have resisted fads and stayed faithful to their founding language.

Only a handful of companies have made measurable progress towards an unchanging vision, not just for a year or two, but for more than two decades, our vision is we want to satisfy all our customer's needs and help them succeed financially. Sounds beautiful, doesn't it? I'm sure if you had asked anyone at Wells Fargo, senior levels at that point about their purpose and their vision, they could have recited these words to you. This was at a time when thousands of customers were being defrauded with accounts being opened in their names that they were not.

So organizational purpose is not in the statements and by no means, do I want to pick on Wells Fargo- they're just one of many organizations and I know a lot of great people that work in that organization. 

The point I want to make is that purpose is not in the statements that are made. Every single team, organization and leader has a statement that they say about purpose. The question is, when the customers, when the employees, when the people around you are asked about the purpose, what do they see and describe as the purpose.

VW is another one of those big scandals. Any of you that might remember, they were in essence rigging their emissions so they would pass high emissions tests.

So VWs mission was to offer attractive, safe, and environmentally sound vehicles which can compete in an increasingly tough market and set worlds standards in the respective class. 

Well, they did set world standards, not with respect to environmentally sound vehicles, but with respect to how they were cheating the system. It is not the statements that matter, it is what the organization prioritizes and what is being done in the organization. 

At this point, VW was prioritizing meeting certain standards and pushing their executives and pushing their teams to do things that were unrealistic initially, unethical eventually.

Now, Boeing at the time that they went through the 7 37 max had the seven enduring values at Boeing. They included integrity, quality and safety. Integrity was- we take the high road by practicing the highest ethical standards, quality- we strive for first time, quality and continuous improvement and safety- we value human life and health above all else. I'm not going to read the rest of those words. You get the sense of what I'm talking about. Those purpose statements are meaningless. 

So if a leader of an organization, says we have purpose, we are purpose-driven. The question is not "so what is your purpose? What are the words on a wall? What are the words you can recite?" Purpose-driven is shown through priorities and through actions.

Another example, that I was just reading about a little while back that really bothered me because I have young girls and I'm aware of some of the impact of social media on some teens. Facebook officials had internal research in March 2020, showing that Instagram, the social media platform that is used most often by teens, is harmful to teen girls' body image and what they did is they actually pushed those findings under the rug to continue doing business as usual. And this was uncovered by Wall Street Journal and they wrote about it in a September 14th, 2021 article. 

So Facebook was pursuing profits, regardless of the impact on the individuals, in this case, teen girls, when they knew better. Purpose matters, but not as stated because Facebook also has five core values.

They can recite the values for you. Focus on impact and the last one is building social value. So the point about purpose is right now, there's a lot of talk and I repeated the mentioned purpose-driven leadership.

And I repeatedly asked my guests about purpose-driven leadership, but please keep in mind. Purpose-driven leadership is not about the words we use. Purpose-driven leadership is not about the purpose statement that organization puts in its letter to shareholders. Purpose-driven leadership is not about the statement or press release that happens after a big national incident. Purpose-driven leadership is about the priorities about the actions and about the results of those actions by the organization.

So, when you think about your own purpose, when you think about your team's purpose, when you think about your organization's purpose, ask yourself, how are we showing our purpose in every priority? If you are not showing it in your priorities, in what you do, what you invest in The decisions that you make on a daily basis, then that purpose is as meaningless as one of these that I just read.

There are lots of organizations like this, and I just want to be mindful of the fact that in many instances, they have great employees that are purpose driven and want to do the right thing. However, we can't just nod and say "purpose, oh yeah, we've got one of those". We need to ask ourselves. What is our purpose based on our choices and based on the behaviors?

Love, hearing your thoughts about this and any of the other episodes. I have lots more great conversations with change-makers and thought leaders coming your way. Also want to quickly thank the wonderful team I have. I have a team of brilliant people working on this podcast, supporting it. They all do different parts of the episodes. They all are very capable. Kem has a superpower in audio editing, Shania has a superpower in writing, Mark has a superpower in visuals and graphics and Inah has a superpower in keeping everything on track and organized. They are the ones that really support these conversations coming to you twice a week. Tuesdays with Changemakers in the Greater Washington DC region and Thursdays with Global Thought Leaders.

Don't forget to follow the podcast on your favorite platform of choice. Rate and review on apple when you get a chance and love hearing your comments, keep those coming, mahan@mahantavakoli.com