Key takeways:

  • adaptive leaders clearly articulate and stand by their purpose

  • they reframe crises into opportunities

  • they make quick and effective decisions aligned with purpose.

The biggest differentiator between failure and success is when people are doing something bigger than themselves.

Dr Andy Walshe, Co-Founder, Liminal Collective

Adaptation starts at the top. High-performing business leaders are responsible for ensuring the collective vision, purpose and beliefs of the business drive every decision.

Companies that endure through the Universal Arc are motivated by a core set of values. In their research for Built to Last, Jim Collins and Jerry Porras did not find a single company that stated ‘profit maximisation’ or ‘maximising growth’ as its driving force – instead, these leaders articulated the organisation’s role in society and how it creates value for others1.

Done well, purpose becomes part of the business’ DNA. Leadership coach and director of Mojo Crowe, Ben Crowe, believes the most important thing a business can do is define its purpose as this will be the ‘north star’ that guides their decision-making, particularly in times of uncertainty and change.

If strategy is a series of conscious choices, then purpose guides leaders to embrace change as a strategic opportunity. It also provides hyper-focus: effective leaders are not afraid to say no to ideas when they don’t align with their values and core beliefs.

Amazon’s mission is to be ‘earth’s most customer-centric company’, gives it licence to operate a number of seemingly unrelated businesses with the commonality of solving customer problems.

This purpose is underpinned by 14 leadership principles, such as a mindset of ‘working backwards from the customer’ in every decision2. Take Amazon Prime, which addressed online shopping’s friction point: customer reluctance to pay for shipping.

Great businesses don't make you feel good about the business. They make you feel good about yourself. 

Ben Crowe, Director, Mojo Crowe

It’s important not to forget the human element of a business’ purpose. When the Red Bull Stratos project launched its mission to take a human to the edge of space, the team shifted its focus from an obsession with technology and data, to a higher meaning.

“Once we realised why Felix Baumgartner was prepared to do this in the first place, it became a powerful hero’s journey we could all rally around,” says Dr Andy Walshe, the project’s High Performance Director3.

He believes leaders need to step outside their comfort zone to learn and grow. By reframing what is in front of them, they change the narrative from threat to challenge.

As custodians of their business, leaders also need to nurture their own performance. “Understanding your own purpose will help you as an individual, and as a leader to navigate the most complex situations,” says Dr Walshe.


More in the series:

Additional information

The information on this page has been prepared by Macquarie Business Banking, a division of Macquarie Bank Limited AFSL & Australian Credit Licence 237502 for general information purposes only, without taking into account your personal objectives, financial situation or needs. Before acting on this general information, you must consider its appropriateness having regard to your own objectives, financial situation and needs. The information provided is not intended to replace or serve as a substitute for any accounting, tax or other professional advice, consultation or service.


Building a Startup That Will Last, Hemant Taneja and Ken Chenault, Harvard Business Review July 2019


Toni Knowlson, Lesson’s from the earth’s most customer-centric company, Macquarie Perspective Event February 2020


Dr Andy Walshe, Leadership without limits, Macquarie Perspective Event February 2020