For those of us who are unfamiliar with the region, a quick internet search reveals Smaland, Sweden to be a windswept, rural place. It was in this rather unlikely location where, at the age of just 17, Ingvar Kamprad founded his business in 1943. Kamprad’s mail order company was focused on providing everyday household items to people at low costs. Years after its creation, the firm launched its flat-pack furniture concept which enabled it to bring affordable and stylish, high-quality home furnishing products to more people. The mission to “create a better everyday life for the many people” is still ingrained in the company to this day. The name of Kamprad’s company was IKEA.
IKEA’s backstory and guiding beliefs are further detailed in the book Story Driven by Bernedette Jiwa. The book provides insight into why it’s important for leaders and entrepreneurs to have a clear sense of identity and to be vulnerable in sharing their true, authentic stories. The subtitle of the book, as well as one of the main principles, is “you don’t need to compete when you know who you are”.
The theme of purpose-driven leadership was also evident during this year’s IGNITE Fall Leadership Symposium. This event provided opportunities for the full-time MBA program at the Wisconsin School of Business to hear from two local entrepreneurs in the Madison area:
- American Provenance: Unsatisfied with the array of chemical-laden personal care items currently available, then middle school science teacher Kyle LaFond created a project where he would show his students how to make their own without using harsh chemicals. This experimentation eventually led LaFond to launch American Provenance from an updated machine shed on his fourth-generation family farm. American Provenance strives to deliver unique, high quality, minimal ingredient, natural products to help consumers feel their very best.
- Steady Shot: While studying as an undergraduate at the University if Wisconsin, Shawn Michels enrolled in Intro to Entrepreneurship where he received a project to develop an innovative new product. Michels lives with Type I diabetes and decided to develop a product that focused on this condition. He designed a plastic attachment for his insulin pen that stabilized the needle and enabled users to conduct one-handed insulin injections. Michels named his injection aid “Steady Shot.”
The stories from Kamprad, Jiwa, LaFond, and Michels all illustrate 3 key ingredients for successful leadership:
- Purpose—clearly define the change you want to make; create value and communicate the purpose to those who most need to hear it
- Authenticity—stay true to the guiding purpose and live your values daily
- Compassion—Empathy and understanding for customers and employees
It was an insightful experience to hear from these passionate entrepreneurs, and promoting such honest voices is of utmost importance to the future of business. Today, consumers are expecting more from companies; searching for brands that are creating positive change and reflect their own personal values. At the same time, digital technology is making information more readily available, increasing the importance of companies and their leaders to truly live their values daily. Exclusively focusing on the bottom line and short-term results can overshadow more nuanced strategies that lead to some of the most successful companies in the world. Best practices can surely apply to authentic, purpose-driven leadership, and future business leaders would be wise to take note.