Season 7 Episode 5 : Leadership strategist and Purpose thinker Dan Pontefract, and a mid-season review

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Get a transcript of this episode, and a special bonus debrief episode at the link below.


Ask today’s guest, Dan Pontefract, about his current mission and he’ll tell you, “If we want Purpose to happen, maybe we need to take a look at our thinking”—and that, “We’re not here to see through each other, we’re here to see each other through.” Sounds like we need his input into our work trying to answer our defining question for Season 7 of ‘Is Purpose Working?’ Agreed—and we do just that in today’s episode, but then we do even more: in the first of a two-half Purpose podcast, we then have a mid-Season discussion which I’ll tell you about in a second.

Now, back to Dan: based in Canada (Victoria, British Columbia) Dan is a leadership strategist, author, keynote speaker and trusted advisor. After a successful career including as ‘Chief Envisioner’ and Chief Learning Officer at TELUS, a $14bn Canadian telecommunications company where he (among other things) set up a special internal TELUS MBA, a role he took on after senior roles at major tech firms such as SAP, Business Objects and BCIT, Dan then founded The Pontefract Group, which is all about building bridges between life and work.

Writing for Forbes and Harvard Business Review, he’s also an adjunct professor at the University of Victoria Gustavson School of Business, and has published four books (with a fifth on the way!). And as you’re going to hear, Purpose is very much at the heart of all his recent work and thinking; he says he helps organizations and leaders become better versions of themselves, plus offers consulting to help organisations get more “collaborative, productive, engaged and purpose-driven”. We flesh this out a little bit, and also find out how:

  • why Purpose needs to be more than ‘values on the wall’ but a working, operating behavior guide
  • his ideas that there are three kinds of Purpose—personal, role and organizational
  • why he’s convinced there’s a direct link between EBITDA and Purpose
  • is it the employer’s responsibility or not to help the employee find their Purpose?
  • why Purpose is much more a realistic business deliverable after COVID than it was in 2015
  • and much more.

Then, as noted, we pivot after the conversation with Dan to conduct a special three-way (Dani, Stacia and I) review of some recent key developments with regard to Purpose and what’s going on out there in a fast-moving COVID world right now. Before we deep dive into all that, just a reminder that, in early 2021, the issues Dan but also all our other awesome guests will get discussed in the second half over all nine episodes of the Season will have a full Level 1 Diagnostic in a special live, online gated experience where we will debate all the Learnings and problems with Purpose we’ve uncovered. Make sure you file a question if you have one real early by locking-in your free place at the webinar. How can I do that, I hear you say? So easy it’s almost insulting to a smart person like you, I answer! Just zip on over to the special NovoEd microsite supporting the project, (and thanks once again to those guys for sponsoring all this work).

All set? Cool—so get ready for a quick debate between me and the smart RedThread Research ladies on what we took from talking to Dan like the many levels of Purpose beyond organizational and why they need to align and his sharp linking of Purpose and Empathy, as well as external developments such as:

  • how talk of Purpose is everywhere right now—including for the President-Elect—but will it stand the test of Time?
  • a year on from the famous Business Roundtable statement, what’s actually happening in the real world, Purpose-wise?
  • a critique of the September KKS Advisors Purpose audit and its methodology
  • where we are with possible metrics to help… if we even need them
  • and much more.


Dan is on LinkedIn here, and his company, The Pontefract Group, is here; his former employer, TELUS, is here

Is the foundation of modern business that Purpose is challenging was this famous 1970 essay by economist Milton Friedman?

Tim Bray’s very public resignation from Amazon: Purpose in action?

Dan’s four books (so far)—LEAD. CARE. WIN: How To Become a Leader Who Matters, OPEN TO THINK, THE PURPOSE EFFECT and FLAT ARMY—can be bought through his site here.

RedThread’s Purpose work is here

A number of recent reports and news announcements get referenced to in the discussion half of the podcast:

And don’t forget that the NovoEd-hosted Season 7 overall microsite hosts all these episodes as well as much, much more—and that’s where you can quickly get online registration for the final Q1 2021 webinar.

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