So why Common Purpose?
Two years ago (or thereabouts), I was blissfully unaware that Common Purpose existed. I was leading a large component of Arup, a major and seriously magical engineering design consultancy. I was making a difference in what I did. But there was a gap unfilled that I was ignoring - making a difference in my community.
At the same time, I was conscious that lack of leadership - locally, nationally and globally - is a major impediment to a better world. The issues remain - poverty, wealth distribution (or lack of it), resource challenges, climate change, violence (including war and terrorism). In addition, even democracies - the least worst form of government (Churchill had something to say about this) - have mostly lost their way; focussed primarily on election and re-election rather than common good. Democracy is more than 'just voting' and the parliamentary process. It requires educated participation. Democracy thrives when all parts of society recognise this and behave accordingly.
I re-engaged with a programme I attended in 1992 - the HRH The Duke of Edinburgh's Commonwealth Study Conferences - unaware that its recent incarnation CSCLeaders was delivered by Common Purpose. I soon learned about Common Purpose and its work- its objective being to bring together a rich and diverse group of people and to provide them with the inspiration, skills and connections to become better leaders at work and in society. Common Purpose develops their ability to work together, innovate and to thrive in different cultures - this helps people, organisations, cities and regions to succeed. The means of achieving those objectives, as an independent, international leadership development organisation, were attractive and drew me close.
Leadership is key
My career in engineering and design has taken me on a wonderful journey to many countries (Australia, UK, HK, Papua New Guinea, Japan, Thailand - just to name those I have lived and worked in - excluding the many more that I have visited). Challenging projects in each of those countries have taught me the importance of effective leadership - and that leadership can work differently in different cultures.
I have seen the importance of leadership on a personal level also. As my technical career as an engineer developed, management and leadership roles were foisted upon me. I was ill-prepared and while many early roles went well - indeed very well - I am not sure I really knew what I was doing. Given success, more and more challenging roles were offered to me and I was not wise enough to know when to say - no! Eventually I stepped beyond my capability and failure was the inevitable result.
That failure and the period that followed was probably the most important lesson I ever received. Having somewhat painfully recovered over a number of years, my reflections on those experiences became very powerful for me. This was not only an advantage within my profession and my organisation, but led me into a wide range of leadership roles in other areas - community service, sport, humanitarian programmes and now - Common Purpose.
There is no doubt that the people who constitute Common Purpose - the Alumni - can fulfil the purpose of providing leadership in our communities whether modest or at the highest level. When we do, the world will become a better place.