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Leading with Purpose — Reflections from Walter Robb, co-CEO, Whole Foods Market

Leadership

“If you want to lead, you must first clarify and embody your purpose. This, in turn, allows you to translate that purpose to your team members and enliven them.”

- Walter Robb

With the release of Conscious Capitalism: Liberating the Heroic Spirit of Business, John Mackey, co-CEO of Whole Foods Market, is showing up everywhere in the media with his passionate and often controversial political perspective.

In the process, the deeper, more important message about the core principles of Conscious Capitalism and the changing orientation of business may be getting lost. Conscious Capitalism and Whole Foods Market are much more textured and significant than anyone’s political views.

Take, for instance, a reflection on Purpose from Walter Robb, the other co-CEO of Whole Foods Market, who has quietly and steadily been a leading champion and steward of the Whole Foods Market culture for two decades, while building stores and infrastructure among other operational duties.

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“Purpose is the depth of the endeavor; it addresses the question: ‘Why are you in business?’ It challenges you to reach deep down to discover what lies at the depth of that why.

We’ve seen the limits of Capitalism when it’s taken to excess. Purpose is the ultimate moderator to bring business back in alignment with its roots in human community. Purpose is the reason you are in business, what you are here to do, the depth of your aspirations, and the opportunity to show up with something bigger than just the money.

When we operate our businesses to serve a higher purpose and the needs of our stakeholders, profits come as a natural result.”

Walter’s passion for culture has played a big role in the success of Whole Foods Market. He initiated and produces the company’s annual Tribal Gathering of hundreds of Store and Facility Team Leaders, regional leadership and coordinators, global leadership, the Board of Directors, other company leaders, Team Member representatives and Global All*Stars and their guests.

“Part of Tribal Gathering is the celebration of all of our accomplishments over the past year and years since the last Tribal Gathering. It’s inspiring to see what we’ve achieved, and it helps us realize what we’re capable of achieving in the future. Tribal Gathering is also an educational opportunity for our leadership teams: they increase their knowledge, learn about new technology making its way into the stores and facilities, get a vision of what the big picture is. It is a time when we take a look at the past, present and future. Tribal Gathering is one of the reasons we’re a strong company: By getting everyone together, we ensure a single vision shared by all.

Culture is the lifeblood of a company. It reflects the embodiment of our purpose and values. It’s ‘how we do things around here” in a way that cultivates trust, respect and appreciation for each other.”

Walter, like John, recognizes that the role of a Conscious Leader is to create the conditions for others to flourish. “Our job is to create a place where each team members’ personal energy is empowered, encouraged, excited . . . enlivened! It’s to create a space where they can take ownership, responsibility for the company’s Purpose, make it their own, and run with it in ways we could never imagine.”

You can hear more of Walter’s insights in person at Conscious Capitalism 2013, April 5th & 6th, in San Francisco, CA. Visit consciouscapitalism.org for information about the event.

© 2013 Jeff Klein, author of It’s Just Good Business: The Emergence of Conscious Capitalism & the Practice of Working for Good

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