Purposeful Leadership

Published: Jan 24, 2019
Modified: Mar 24, 2020

By Nikos Mourkogiannis

The difference between “management” and “leadership” has produced more commentary than almost any other business subject, but much of it lacks practical applicability. To remedy this, I have developed the “TIME Leadership Framework,” which I believe can be enormously helpful for managers who are taking on leadership responsibilities.

The TIME Leadership Framework is based on the insight that there are four fundamental components to any leadership action:

  1. THINK: To devise a direction and a plan for approaching it.
  2. INSPIRE: To generate collective support for this direction and the actions that will be required.
  3. MOBILIZE: To make sure that all the relevant individuals agree to cooperate and to accept specific roles.
  4. EMPOWER: To set up the systems needed to maintain momentum.

These four stages are not strictly sequential. Deciding what to do may depend on knowing what tasks various people will cooperate on. Similarly, in the course of Inspiring and Mobilizing, a leader may need to Think about new information. However, the underlying logic of the stages is very straightforward and probably universal. In fact, the same basic pattern applies to a family outing, a charity appeal, a military action, the launch of a new business or the running of an existing business.

Experience suggests that simply knowing this framework, and applying it to any situation that requires collective action, can be enormously helpful to anyone who is interested in leadership. More than this, though, it has specific relevance to the leadership/management divide.

In many conventional companies, managers are expected to Mobilize and Empower: to negotiate roles with their reports and make sure that they have the resources they require to perform those roles. In such organizations, managers are often implicitly or explicitly discouraged from Thinking and Inspiring. The big ideas are devised by someone else; Inspiration is strictly top-down.

That situation turns out to be counterproductive in two ways. First, it deprives the organization of any Thinking and Inspiration from people throughout the hierarchy. Second, it deprives managers of opportunities to develop their own capacity for Thinking and Inspiration—in other words, the opportunity to expand their own horizons to consider and articulate issues and strategies outside their own narrow part of the system. The more people in an organization who are able to do this, the more capable the organization becomes as a whole. Instead of curtailing this ability, most companies should be actively developing it.

Hence the deeper value of the TIME framework. If you want to become a good leader, it makes sense to start practicing the skills now that you will need tomorrow. Learn how to think for yourself and Inspire your reports, as well as Mobilizing and Empowering them.

When I say “think for yourself,” I do not mean “make decisions that you are not authorized to take.” Instead, try to work out why decisions have been taken and what decisions you would make in the same situation. If you have a leader above you in the organization hierarchy who is receptive to your developmental needs, he or she will encourage your attempts to understand the rationale behind decision making. Similarly, if you want to become a good leader, you should encourage your reports to take an informed interest in the decisions that lie within your realm of responsibility. When you understand why a course of action has been chosen, it is easier to Inspire others to carry it out. And that, in turn, will make your Mobilization more effective and lead naturally to the Empowerment of others.


Purpose is the driving force behind a company’s actions. Great companies have a Purpose that extends beyond simply making as much money as possible. Their Purpose appeals to the moral convictions of its key stakeholders, in particular, the leadership team on whom its success depends. There is, of course, nothing wrong with companies making profits. But this is the paradox of Purpose: by aiming for something more important than money, companies actually make more money, especially in the medium- to long-term. Examples of highly successful, Purpose-driven companies include Sony, Berkshire Hathaway, The Body Shop and Microsoft.

In my book Purpose: The Starting Point of Great Companies, I describe the four moral traditions on which global companies can most effectively base their Purpose:

  1. Discovery (searching for the new)
  2. Excellence (providing the best product or service)
  3. Altruism (caring for others)
  4. Heroism (leading the field)

These moral traditions help to produce organizations that stand the test of time because they tap into people’s sense of what is right and worthwhile.

Having a strong sense of Purpose is vital to many aspects of business success (stimulating morale, driving innovation, building relationships, securing competitive advantage), but it also has specific relevance for those who wish to become leaders. In the TIME framework, Purpose is particularly relevant to the first two stages—the very two that prospective leaders need to master most. Purpose provides direction for Thinking and a cause for Inspiring others.

When Tom Watson took over as president of the Computing-Tabulating-Recording Company (CTR) in 1914 he decided to sell off businesses that did not match his Purpose for the organization. He then set about galvanizing the company around a corporate identity based on the Purpose: renaming it International Business Machines (IBM), introducing company songs and plastering the phrase “THINK” around the offices. Between 1915 and 1956, when Watson stepped down from his role as head of the company, IBM averaged yearly earnings growth of 9%.

The first step to using Purpose to Think about company direction and Inspire others—and thus to begin the personal transition from managing to leading—is to understand your own Purpose. If you aspire to become a leader, you also need to find an organization that will accommodate your Purpose.

I have devised a Purpose profiler that provides an initial basis for thinking about what drives you as an individual and what drives the company that you work for. You can access the Purpose profiler at www.purposethebook.com. Hopefully, this will help you on your way to leadership success.

About the Author(s)

Nikos Mourkogiannis ([email protected]) is the senior partner of Panthea Ltd., a consulting firm based in London, and senior executive advisor on leadership to Booz Allen Hamilton. Formerly a senior executive with the Monitor Group, Westinghouse and General Dynamics, he taught international negotiation at Harvard University. He is the author of Purpose: The Starting Point of Great Companies (Palgrave/Macmillan, 2006).