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Developing leadership practice in voluntary organisations
Developing leadership practice in voluntary organisations

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2.1 The forces driving purpose

Let’s now reflect on leadership as purpose in a little more depth. Kempster et al. (2011) make the case that purpose is a greatly overlooked dimension of leadership studies, which, as you saw in Weeks 2 and 3, are usually preoccupied by the personality of people in leadership. The authors draw on the philosophy of Alasdair MacIntyre, someone who reflected a great deal on the role of purpose in society. MacIntyre (1988 and 1997) makes the case that purpose is driven by two forces. First, it is driven by what he calls external goods. External goods are ‘possessed by people’– things such as ‘money, or gaining power’ (Kempster et al., 2011, p. 321). So, for instance, one person might do good, charitable things with power and money but another might choose to do otherwise, buying a terrific new Lamborghini sports car instead of donating to a local homeless shelter.

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Figure 2 What makes leadership ethical?

Second, purpose is shaped by internal goods, those things that are good in and of themselves. These internal goods are good beyond individuals and can be interpreted as ‘a good for the whole community’ (Kempster et al., 2011, p. 321). For example, preventing homelessness could be considered an effort that comprises several internal goods. The charity Crisis would argue that reducing homelessness improves people’s health (mental and physical), their education and skills, as well as the broader economy. For example, there may also be a less tangible internal good of generating community spirit – seeing vulnerable homeless people on the street can be distressing and improving people’s lives may make everyone feel that little bit better about themselves and their communities.

Organisations tend to veer towards a preference for external goods (perhaps understandably because organisations need to be able to survive in the short-term and doing so requires external goods, primarily money) and so a key aspect of leadership as ethics is keeping the organisation focused on and aware of its internal goods. For example, a volunteer might raise a question about why a charity chooses to fundraise in a particular way; or a board member might query an organisation’s partnership with a business organisation. Having a strong purpose, however, does not mean that organisations are able to avoid tough ethical dilemmas and the next section moves on to explore leadership in relation to dilemmas.