The Irrelevance of Profit-Driven Leadership


Leadership is not a position. It is the totality of your actions rooted in a set of beliefs that influence your interactions with people.

Dominating corporations and small-businesses for centuries is a mechanistic-leadership view. Such a view holds that organizational profit is the leading input to a manager’s leadership style. The overused style takes for granted the brilliance and sacrifice of the people whose human capital generate the profit. Instead, employees are treated as though they are cogs in a machine that merely need to be fine-tuned for maximum output.

A mechanistic-leadership view disregards the human element of business. The unchallenged and outdated view underlying such a leadership philosophy is employees are replaceable. While it’s true anyone can be replaced, the faulty logic is built on the belief that another person is readily available. In today’s job market and the changing demographics of the workforce and their expectations of employers, replacing someone is often a long, expensive process.

In a time when more employees are seeking meaning from their work or wanting to have an impact on society and customers, profit-driven leadership is a mis-fit for many businesses. It places employees as the means to a profitable end. Employees have grown restless and disillusioned by making the men at the top richer while they receive meager increases.

Profit-driven leadership is rooted in the belief that the business purpose is a luxury that cannot be examined. The purpose is not to make money; that is a result, as Simon Sinek aptly reminds us. Organizational purpose is the reason for existence – it’s a bigger calling.

Profit-driven leaders uses time as an excuse for not exploring purpose and connecting actions and outcomes to it. Profit-driven leaders see merely trees when the forest is more compelling and interesting.

Misguided in their efforts, profit-driven leaders believe profit comes through efficient processes and policies. The truth has always been that profit comes from the toil and sacrifice of a workforce inspired by a purpose that invites them to unleash their best effort for a cause worth believing in.

Leadership is an honorable distinction. Not everyone shows it, but everyone is capable of it. Your leadership capability is rooted in your beliefs about people. The irrelevance of profit-driven leadership reveals to us that purpose and believing in people’s capabilities to do great work is what is needed in today’s workplace and business environment.


Change Leader | Speaker | Writer Co-founder and CEO of Switch and Shift. Passionately explores the space where business & humanity intersect. Promoter of workplace optimism. Believes work can be a source of joy. Top ranked leadership blogger by Huffington Post. The Optimistic Workplace (AMACOM) out 2015

  • Spark the Action

    Powerful post Shawn, and very much on point. When the focus is only on ‘profit’, then all else simply becomes a means to an end, including the very people who labor to produce that profit. It is a paradigm shift that is hard to accept but Sinek’s thoughts express it well – making money is not the purpose, but the result.

    Thanks for your thoughts
    Best regards,

  • The reason that profit-driven leadership is mechanistic is because it is driven. We tend to drive mechanical things and we are still beholden to mechanical things, in a century where new alternatives are in the offing.

    There is nothing wrong or irrelevant with profit-inspired leadership but not because the leadership has to be honourable but the profit has to be honourable. In a mechanistic world we can create arguments that justify dishonourable profit – and I see people winning with that mentality today.

    “To Big to Fail” is a form of dishonourable profit, especially since the dangers of monopoly are explicit in anti-trust legislation – but when organizations or entities can draw on legislation to succeed, by-passing even anti-trust legislation (indeed not even deeming it worthy of a discussion), then profit reeks of the stench it got planted in.

    Honourable leadership also has to contend with dishonourable people, not every human being on this Earth is the “Salt of the Earth”, some are more like “Sulphuric Acid of the Earth”. The more we look at dishonourable things, the more we see.

    Honourable leadership is a shift towards seeing honourable things and within that sense of honour is honourable profit – or what I would characterize as profit-inspired leadership. Yes, it is about meaning, even the Bible speaks well of it “What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him?”.


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