Exploring the concept of purposeful leadership, this research draws on findings from surveys, interviews and focus groups to identify links between purposeful leadership, ethical leadership behaviours and various employee and organisational outcomes. Our research also investigates how organisations can nurture an environment where leaders can be purposeful.

Purposeful leadership: What is it, what causes it, and does it matter?

The construct of purposeful leadership diagram


There's been considerable interest in the notion of purposeful organisations in recent years, driven by growing levels of distrust and disillusionment with what are often regarded as the short-termist, financial imperatives driving contemporary firms. Typically, the attributes of purposeful organisations – societal responsibility, values and ethics – are simply translated into the qualities that characterise their ideal leaders. But what type of leaders do purposeful organisations really need?

In this study, we answer this question by conceptualising a new construct of purposeful leadership, which includes the extent to which a leader has a strong moral self, a vision for his or her team, and whether they take an ethical approach to leadership marked by a commitment to stakeholders. We also investigate the impact it has on various employee and organisational outcomes.

The research is based on case studies from five organisations in different sectors and a survey of a representative sample of the UK working population. Detailed methodology is provided in the technical report, which you can find below, along with an infographic and discussion paper

If you’re interested in finding out more about what leaders and their followers said at the case study organisations, take a look at our interview with Patrick Brione, Head of Policy and Research, IPA.

Download the reports below

Purposeful leadership discussion paper

Download the discussion paper
PDF document 196 KB

Purposeful leadership technical report

Download the report
PDF document 1 MB

Infographic: Enablers and constraints of purposeful leadership

Download the infographic
PDF document 193.6 KB

Explore our video highlights


What is purposeful leadership?

Ksenia Zheltoukhova, Research Adviser for the CIPD, unpacks the meaning of purposeful leadership.


Why is purposeful leadership important?

Wilson Wong, Head of Insight and Futures at the CIPD, underscores the importance of this concept.

Key findings

Prevalence of purposeful leadership diagram

  • Purposeful leadership and its constituent components - moral self, commitment to stakeholders and vision - are important in influencing a range of employees outcomes.
  • Only 21% of managers in the UK rate themselves highly as purposeful leaders.
  • There is a link between purposeful leadership and employees’ perception that their leaders behave ethically, although the relationship is complex and varies across organisational contexts.
  • The links between purposeful leadership and the extent to which employees believe their ethics and values fit well with those of their organisation vary across the case studies.
  • Enablers of purposeful leadership centre around having clear policies in place, role-modelling from senior leaders, training, and organisational culture.
  • Constraints against purposeful leadership centre around time and resource pressures, leading to the prioritisation of business or organisational interests. 

Professor Katie Bailey on some of the key findings from the purposeful leadership study

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