7 Leadership Insights from Some Of The World’s Best People-Forward Leaders

By Mark Griffin


I was inspired by the content, conversations, and connections at the Great Place to Work For All Summit last week in New Orleans. With over 1,700 people in attendance, this wasn’t a small event and involved some of the world’s best, people-forward companies. The whole experience was extremely validating to our work at PurposeFused and, quite literally, there wasn’t one presentation, fireside chat, or conversation that didn’t recognize the power of purpose as a foundational must-have for people performing at their best. Purpose sits clearly at the intersection between wellbeing, impact, and performance, acting as the catalyst and regenerative energy to enrich all three.

Here are my 7 top takeaways:

  1. Grounding Culture in Purpose
  2. Embedding Wellbeing as a Productivity Multiplier
  3. Growing Forward
  4. Embracing GRIT through Purpose
  5. Inclusion = Innovation
  6. The Precious Gift of Life and Power of Perspective
  7. Thinking “For All”

Here we go:

1. Grounding Culture in Purpose (Chris Nassetta, CEO, Hilton)

Hilton, recognized by Great Places to Work® as the world’s #1 place to work, thrives on a deeply grounded purpose. They focus on creating a great human experience through inclusion, wellness, and growth. The motivation for growth comes from an emphasis on truth-telling, which fosters a familial atmosphere where employees feel valued and supported to grow. Key to their leadership philosophy is creating an open, safe environment that embraces cognitive dissonance, with feedback mechanisms at the highest levels to avoid blind spots. Senior level sponsorship and modeling of initiatives, in-house communities including ERGs, have been critical parts of their success. In the face of adversity and essentially zero revenue during Covid, they gave away 1 million rooms to medical responders, demonstrating their commitment to their workforce and communities, in partnership with Amex. That commitment to purpose was the foundation upon which their turnaround was built.

2. Embedding Wellbeing as a Productivity Multiplier (Arianna Huffington, Thrive Global)

Arianna Huffington (Thrive Global) and DJ Casto (EVP, CHRO Synchrony) advocate for integrating wellbeing as part of productivity, considering it a strategic priority. Micro-steps—steps that are too small to fail at, which form the basis of new habits—focused on sleep, nutrition, movement, stress management, and connection are emphasized. They highlighted the power of a 60-second “resets” (the equivalent of what we call “joy breaks” at PurposeFused). Focusing on gratitude, happy thoughts, music, photos, memories, and aspirations switches you from your sympathetic to your parasympathetic nervous system. You cannot be stressed and grateful at the same time. Try it! Recognizing the impending prominence of mental health—predicted to be the world’s most pressing issue in 10 years’ time—they advocate for opening access via digitized programs integrated into the normal workday processes and applications, resulting in adoption rates of over 80%.

3. Growing Forward (Anthony Caruano, President & CEO, Marriott)

Those of you who know me know that I have “Go Forward” tattooed on my left arm. It was the name of the culture we established (Go Forward Together) at Play Rugby USA. It represents a combination of GRIT (Duckworth—next point), a Growth Mindset (Dweck), a focus on core values, and a commitment to your beliefs. So, you won’t be surprised that I now kind of want to add the two letters R and W to my arm! Marriott’s leadership prioritizes growth for all by investing in developing great leaders at all levels and fostering a culture of opportunity creation. Their CEO seeks individuals energized by creating opportunities for others, emphasizing the importance of a stakeholder-focused approach. Trust, respect, fairness, and camaraderie are deemed crucial for collective success, highlighting the significance of diversity in leadership and balancing a long-term perspective. Given my purpose is “Creating opportunities that inspire people to G[r]O[w] forward as the ultimate version of themselves”—if all else fails, I should be able to land a job at Marriott!

4. Embracing GRIT through Purpose (Angela Duckworth)

Angela Duckworth’s concept of GRIT, a combination of passion and perseverance, underscores the importance of deliberate practice and mentorship in achieving long-term goals. GRIT is significantly strengthened through relationships and purpose, and the strongest single correlation between a high sense of GRIT is with a meaningful sense of PURPOSE. So, take time to reflect on your interests; discover, articulate, and plan forward on top of your purpose, and you’ll increase your GRIT. Increase your GRIT and you’ll strengthen your commitment to deliberate practice. Commit to deliberate practice and your likelihood of sustaining optimal performance multiplies. Consider: 1) breaking down practice to a small piece; 2) focusing 100% effort on that practice; and 3) seeking and reflecting upon feedback. If you have a growth mindset, you’ll act upon that feedback and prove to yourself you can get better. Job done!

5. Inclusion for Innovation (Daniel Wendler, PsyD & Ellen Shook, CLHRO, Accenture)

Daniel has an inspirational story about his childhood struggle of desperately wanting to belong, while his autism (undiagnosed back then) made him different. The headline here is to treat, accept, and embrace people as people. Sounds simple, but as a leader, you can look in the mirror and ask yourself and your leadership team how well you are truly doing here. Given 20% of the population is in some way neurodivergent, what is your strategy for inclusion and igniting their potential? Acknowledging the challenges faced by neurodivergent individuals, organizations like Accenture emphasize the importance of social connection and belonging in fostering innovation and engagement. Initiatives focused on education, dialogue, and acceptance aim to create conditions for neurodivergent individuals to thrive, recognizing their unique perspectives as valuable assets. With 1,800 people and growing in their neurodivergent ERG community who have inspired over 18,000 colleagues with a training they created, Accenture acknowledges it’s an impressive start on a long learning journey ahead.

6. The Precious Gift of Life and Power of Perspective (John O’Leary)

John O’Leary’s story, shaped by a horrific accident as a child, speaks to overcoming adversity through emphasizing the importance of service, gratitude, and purpose in making tomorrow better than today. He spoke to the crucial support of relationships and community, as being literally life-saving. From that, learning that perspective is the key. He speaks of three questions to consider. Think of them negatively (self-pity, victim mindset, hopelessness) and you’ll find those answers. Embrace them through a lens of possibility, and you’ve opened the door to achieve them (then go back to point #4). Ask these of yourself daily, as follows:

  1. Why Me? When the sun rises, through a lens of gratitude and possibility.
  2. Who Cares? Who can I care for today, what difference can I make?
  3. What more can I do? At the end of the day, to make tomorrow a little better than today for those you care for.

This is a personal takeaway for everyone and arguably should be a leadership imperative. As he sourced to Victor Frankl (Man’s Search for Meaning), “if you know your why, you can accomplish any how.” So again—discover and articulate your purpose, and you’ll be in a much stronger position to navigate obstacles with resilience and contribute positively to those around you. That’s where you find joy, inspiration, and fulfillment—three core outcomes from living and leading with purpose.

7. Thinking For All (Michael Bush, CEO, Great Place to Work)

Michael challenges us to take a 500-year view. I think it’s fair to say the human race may not be around without embracing this. This (extremely) long-term view is complemented by a broader here-and-now approach that advocates for “all.” That means stakeholder-centric leadership, emphasizing the importance of belief, authenticity, and recognizing the interconnectedness of individuals and communities: “Everyone does better when everyone does better.” We need to discard zero-sum (Me vs. We) thinking and embrace a Me + We + All (we say World) approach to impact…thinking beyond just the immediate stakeholders.

I often use the example of ‘We impact’ with clients as follows: if your “We” is 200 people over the next 10 years, and the same is true for all those in your “We” group—you have the potential to influence 40,000 people, just by focusing on those you surround yourself with daily. That’s one hell of a behavior multiplier (positive or negative). You leave a legacy behind you every day, how do you want it to ripple out?

By prioritizing the right values, behaviors, transparency, and long-term investments, leaders can build trust and engagement while navigating complex challenges. Grounded in a commitment to making a positive impact, stakeholder-centric leadership fosters resilience and regenerative growth. I think my favorite quote Michael shared is that “Part of being a leader and entrepreneur is about the need to believe in what you believe in.” That might just sum up the last 20 years of my life!