Strategic Leadership: The Role of Societal IQ and Purpose

Björn Edlund wrote this blog post in his capacity as senior advisor for the Tantalus Group

Business in Society

A key contribution by senior communicators is acting as the integrator across the leadership, and arguably one of the hardest integration challenges is ensuring that culture, strategy and purpose align. Communicators are uniquely positioned for this challenge. Proper alignment is the best foundation for constructive engagement with stakeholders based on a clear understanding of the company’s purpose.

To achieve this, communicators must be willing and able to spark and continuously nurture two often little-develop insights in the leadership; a deeper and broader understanding of the role of business in society, and a profound appreciation of – and respect for – stakeholder concerns.

Societal Intelligence and Purpose

A better understanding of the role of business in society goes hand in hand with what I call societal intelligence (SQ). Just as leaders need a strong IQ and well-developed emotional intelligence (EQ) to be effective, SQ is essential. Societal intelligence is a leader’s ability to see and act on the company’s challenges and opportunities in their broader economic, political, social and cultural context.

SQ is understanding what drives opinion so that you can build advantages, create alliances, mitigate risks, enhance the reputation, and become a much smarter market player. By taking into account stakeholder concerns, SQ also enables you to shape a more inviting narrative that expresses and links the company’s purpose and role in society with its commercial offerings.

So what is Purpose? Conceptually, purpose is often defined as an aspirational reason for being. Put more briefly, purpose is the answer to the question: “why does our company exist?”

So if culture is who and how we are and what we stand for, and strategy is what we do and how we do it, purpose is why we exist, i.e. what is our role in society?

So if culture is who and how we are and what we stand for, and strategy is what we do and how we do it, purpose is why we exist, i.e. what is our role in society?

Making the Pursuit of Purpose Your Guide to the Role of Business in Society

Purpose (and SQ) are more than the latest fad. A well-developed purpose has real and clear business value. A recent study by the EY Beacon Institute shows that a strong sense of organizational purpose helps people in business pursue a single, compelling aim. And EY reported that more than 85% of business leaders believe that companies perform best over time if their purpose goes beyond profit. So purpose makes for a strong performance culture.
How does this work? Simply put, purpose is an expression of how the company sees its role. It does so in a way that provides clarity for those driving towards company aims as well as an engaging insight into the motivations of the company for all its external stakeholders.

Helping your company’s leadership ensure that the whole enterprise lives its purpose – and properly expresses it – requires that you, as senior communicator and C Suite integrator, is truly well-placed to support the leaders in their daunting challenge to look further ahead than the next quarter.

In order to do that, you need to map (and express in business language) your company’s and sector’s societal context, and its cultural dynamics. This goes beyond a classic mapping and analysis of stakeholder concerns. Honing your own SQ will allow you to help the business leadership engage in strategic leadership and develop a solid narrative and engagement plan, assure implementation and help the enterprise create space for the business to grow.