Walking the Talk Blog

Purpose-led: what Monica Lewinsky can teach us about culture

[fa icon="calendar"] 26-Mar-2015 21:27:32 / by Carolyn Taylor

I found myself very moved by Monica Lewinsky’s TED Talk.

At the age of 41, 17 years after her infamous public humiliation, Lewinsky has decided to "take back control of her own story” and pick up the cause of public shaming. One of the Internet’s first subjects of online shaming, the former intern called for compassion and a more responsible approach to the way we consume online scandal and story. In short, she has chosen to seek a purpose-led approach to her life, selecting a subject for which she is highly qualified, and turning that strength into a way to help others.
Upworthy's Co-founder Peter Koechley was in session at the 2015 Changing Media Summit this week. In his presentation, Koechley's spoke of his vision to build a purpose-driven media company:


I think there’s a third, very important, role for media in society. That is: I think media can be a powerful force for nurturing empathy in society. Empathy is a soft word [for hard-hitting journalists]. Without it, society has a really hard time making progress.– Peter Koechley, Upworthy 


At Walking the Talk, we have an archetype in our model that we call Greater-Good.  The Greater-Good archetype speaks to those organisations who are looking to build patterns of behaviour that are centred around contribution, meaning, longer-term thinking, mindfulness, self-actualisation and selflessness.  At the centre of this archetype is the concept of purposefulness.

Of our six archetypes: Achievement, Customer-Centric, One-Team, Innovation, People-First and Greater-Good, it is Greater-Good which is selected most rarely by our clients as the area of focus for their culture transformation efforts. That’s OK. There's plenty of work that can be done to embed characteristics of it within the other five. But we like having Greater-Good in the mix, mostly because it represents a different dimension of cultural focus than the other five. We foresee this sixth dimension growing in the corporate environment over the coming years.



The benefits of a Greater-Good, purpose-led culture:

Every culture journey is best fuelled by a business benefit. Leading change is tough, even the most altruistic leader needs to be able to demonstrate the return on investment.


    1. Highest engagement. Individuals who are hell-bent on a purpose can spin gold from hay.  Work that seemed grueling becomes motivating. Providing purpose for employees trumps most of the other levers for improving engagement scores. People will kill to work for an employer who is making a difference. During my years working as a consultant in Silicon Valley, what struck me was that sense of purpose. A bunch of people who believed they were changing the world, and they were. Securing a job at Google was seen as an ultimate prize. These days, many of our clients want their culture to become “more like Google’s”. I tell them many features of Google’s culture would be almost impossible for them to embed, but purposefulness is available to all.

    2. Less defensive behaviour. Purpose can literally ‘bring out the best in people’.  It can reduce a focus on behaviours that have been proven less effective and more damaging: blaming, not taking responsibility, being closed to learning, being self-serving, bullying.  If the desire to fulfill a purpose becomes more important than the desire to defend one’s own ego and position, people can be more open. (I say ‘can be’ because even Greater-Good cultures have an underbelly – an overzealous purposefulness can lead to a feeling of invincibility and arrogance).

    3. Enhanced reputation. At a time when so many industries and organisations have been accused of abusing their position for personal gain and putting aside common ethics, there is a golden opportunity to genuinely be seen to be in the pursuit of contributing to the wellbeing of the community, whilst still making a fair profit. Those organisations who find ways to achieve both are appreciated by their customers and their shareholders.


A Greater-Good culture can be built at the organisational level, at the team level, or even within one’s own life.  The first step is to consider what that purpose might be. Where is that place where you can most apply your skills and unique experience to the betterment of others?


Carolyn is the CEO of Walking the Talk and author of 'Walking the Talk: Building a Culture for Success' (Random House).
Follow us on Twitter @walkingourtalk or LinkedIn.

Image via Flickr Creative Commons.

Topics: Carolyn Taylor, Culture archetypes, Greater-Good

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