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How We Commit to Be Purposeful, Inclusive Leaders in 2020 and Beyond

July 7, 2020 Maria Howard

A global health pandemic. Unemployment rates not seen since the Great Depression. A confrontation of long-standing systemic racial injustice.

In just three short months, we have experienced multiple “once in a lifetime” experiences. These are the largest tests of leadership the world has witnessed in recent generations.

Every leader is facing a similar potential threat. Every leader is reacting differently, in their own style. And every leader will be judged by the results.

We have also entered the world’s largest “work from home” experiment—and the shift appears to be long term, with 74% of organizations electing to keep at least some of their workforce permanently working from home once the COVID-19 crisis passes.

This shift has led to increased productivity, but it has also left employees without a strong sense of belonging and increased feelings of isolation and disconnection. Leaders are feeling the loss of in-person interaction as they struggle to find meaningful connection across a video screen.

I recently shared a keynote presentation at the HR Virtual Summit, a meeting of executives and senior leadership in the human capital space, during which I unpacked this critical leadership crisis.

During a recent installment of Linkage’s Critical Leadership Conversations series, Alan Mulally, former CEO of Ford Motor Company, made a great point: We are truly charting a new leadership path.

Our global environment has undergone massive change, and organizations and leaders who can maximize the impact of a diverse and multifaceted workforce will rise to the challenge of succeeding during and after the COVID world. How do we do that?

Consider Linkage’s research on effective leadership: By evaluating data from one million leaders, using more than 100,000 360˚ assessments and surveying 1,000 leaders at 70+ top organizations, we identified that organizations with Purposeful Leaders generate more revenue and profit, increase employee engagement, and have higher net promoter scores.

But, this data goes one step further: Linkage’s research proves that effective leaders are, at their core, inclusive leaders. They manage effectively across difference, bringing out the talents, skills and contributions of a diverse workforce.

These inclusive Purposeful Leaders make five commitments to themselves and their organizations:

1. Are we inspiring?

Leaders provide hope for the future and direct our energy toward a bold vision. In a crisis, getting your team “unstuck” through reframing and finding bite-sized actions to drive focus is critical.
Here’s one way to inspire your teams during a time when work has never been more involved or challenging: Set shorter-term goals that can help rally and focus the team. Ask yourself: What can we accomplish today? This week? This month? Celebrate the successes, no matter how small.

2. Are we innovative?

Trying times demand faster change and reimagination of the business. To stay competitive and emerge stronger from a crisis, leaders need to drive new thinking.
While the COVID-19 crisis has been incredibly disruptive to our lives, it has also led to incredible innovation and faster acclimation than we ever thought possible. Seemingly overnight, we have adjusted to a remote workforce and school system. Scientists and regulatory agencies are collaborating at an unprecedented pace. Demand for at-home delivery is higher than ever, and many companies have changed their business models in a matter of a few months to better serve their customers.

3. Are we achieving?

Successful leaders accomplish aspirational goals by creating clarity, structure and process for their teams. During a crisis, loosening the control we have may be a necessity—and a different structure within our organization may allow for rapid execution. Look to the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) for a recent example of this shift in action. After understanding the impact delays were having on their work process, they lifted lengthy standard testing and approval processes, paving the way for faster solutions.

4. Are we engaging?

Leaders must be able to bring people together—and ensure they have the opportunity to contribute to their fullest potential. With no existing roadmap for leaders and organizations to follow in this crisis, we must rely on diverse perspectives to bring new ideas to the table. Open yourself up for collaboration.
Linkage recently implemented a new process for cross-company collaboration, based on the Business Plan Review (BPR) process we learned from Alan Mulally. Every week, we convene 18 leaders from every function and business unit to share information, identify immediate needs, and organize cross-functional teams to resolve them. Topics covered range from business continuity plans to employee communication and product innovation. No one must solve a problem alone, and we now have engaged all leaders in finding solutions and contributing to the reinvention of our business.

5. Am I achieving the inner path of leadership? Am I “becoming”?

Above all, leaders must be emotionally present and resilient. We must put the good of the group ahead of ourselves. We must be self-aware, courageous, and committed to being purposeful. This requires standing strong in our plan—until we develop an even better plan. It requires telling the truth and communicating openly about information and decisions as soon as we can. During times of unprecedented change, we must acknowledge we don’t have all the answers and be transparent in our path to forging a new way forward.


Out of crisis comes opportunity, and strong and effective leadership is a cornerstone of our ability to rise to a challenge—within our organizations, communities, and in our world. The commitments of Purposeful Leadership, grounded in inclusion, become even more important as we all strive to lead in a permanently changed world. We must inspire, innovate, achieve, engage and become in order to meet today’s challenges and tomorrow’s opportunities.

Linkage research shows that companies that develop leaders who do things for a purpose and with a purpose enjoy 2x stronger revenue growth, 4x profit growth and 9x employee engagement. Linkage’s Purposeful Leadership Solution delivers a practical framework to identify, evaluate and accelerate leaders at all levels.

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