Moving to a Stakeholder Mindset

November 6, 2020


One of the super powers of brand purpose is the ability to bring together people and groups. Purpose shapes how we connect with and lead those around us. Lately, I’ve started to see how purpose and connection are important to the evolution of business from shareholder primacy to a stakeholder mindset. This article explores how shifting our leadership style is paramount to this change.

Recently, I had the chance to participate in the Real Skills Conference through Seth Godin’s Akimbo. For two hours, business leaders from around the world discussed the real skills needed in business today. Things like empathy, kindness, generosity, listening, courage and trust. During one of the discussions, the moderator shared an interesting quote with the group. “We need to shift our leadership approach from ‘control over to control with.’”

The idea being that we should move away from a hierarchical mindset. We should avoid believing that leadership equates to control over others and instead recognize that leadership with others is far more effective.

Author and workplace psychologist Adam Grant has a lot of great insights that reflect this same thinking. A few months ago, he shared this: “…we don’t need micromanagers. We need macromanagers to highlight our contribution to the team and reinforce the broader purpose of our work.”

In other words, businesses need leaders who can see how the pieces best fit together rather than controlling each piece. Secondly, teams and people operate best when they understand and share a common purpose. In fact, 9 out of 10 people stated they are willing to earn less money to do more meaningful work, according to a recent Meaning and Purpose at Work study.

When I think more about the idea of control with versus control over, it reinforces the value of purpose and community. Getting clear about what you do and why you do it brings people together. We also feel far more connected and engaged when we come together for a common reason.

Choosing to lead with others means choosing to invite a diverse group of people to the table. It requires us to listen to and respect the people in the group and puts the needs of the team before the individual (all real skills). By aligning around a common cause, issue, need, set of beliefs or purpose, we can more easily shift from a control over others mindset to a more inclusive one.

Putting it back into a larger context, this leadership evolution seems to mirror the shift from a shareholder first mindset to a stakeholder mindset. We are sometimes fooled into believing control over people will yield a specific and desired result. In this particular case, shareholder value. Conversely, stakeholder value requires us to lead with our employees, customers, partners, communities and shareholders interests in mind.

My favorite quote is from Peter McGinniss, president and chief operating officer at Chobani. “The leaders of tomorrow more and more realize having a strong head and a big heart is where you need to be.” I’ve always found this to mean that success exists at the cross section of good business and doing good. 

You can interpret control with many ways. Control with others, control with empathy, control with generosity. However, I feel like this idea represents a similar intersection. Successful leaders possess both strong business skills and strong human skills. Much like the shift from shareholder primacy to a stakeholder mindset.




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Karen Bailey is a brand purpose consultant and specializes in helping companies define their purpose and align their business around it. In 2017, she launched the blog, Purpose Greater Than Profit, to start a meaningful conversation about the increasingly important role of brand purpose, purposeful leadership and a better way of doing business.


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