Wellth-Driven Success:A New Framework for 21st-Century Leaders


The brand team for a major soft drink company faces a dilemma: It must decide whether to advertise its well-known diet drink to teenage girls in the U. S., a sizeable market opportunity for immediate sales. Yet the latest research screams that girls in that age range are plagued with poor self-esteem, obsessed with the “be thin to be happy” message rampant in Western media. Should the company turn a blind eye to the research and make a substantial profit or turn away from the money with eyes wide open. What is the right thing to do?

When we lead an organization that relies on profitability to exist, the answer isn’t always obvious. As we become mindful of the myriad of outside factors that influence our business success, we confront troubling dilemmas and are called on to make choices that we know will have larger implications for the future of our companies, cultures, and lives. We must tirelessly invent new products, services, and often entire markets, while we secretly reminisce about how much easier things used to be.

We must focus on the business of doing business, but in today’s climate, we can only do so by navigating difficult social issues. We aim for growth, but we want to stay true to the purpose and values that make our organization a great place to work.

Likewise, we want to reinvigorate our personal health, yet we struggle with the weight of work on our shoulders.

Every moment seems like a compromise, a juggling act, a constant “give and take” with no end in sight.

We can either stick our head in the sand or discover fundamentally new ways to see our problems, make decisions, and relate to others.

The stark truth is that the world is continually shifting right before our eyes, in ways we cannot control. The more we see the consequences of our values and actions, the more we realize that we can’t succeed any longer using the exhausting and uninspired approaches of the past.

Today’s world is challenging us in ways we could not have imagined (see “Twenty-First Century Challenges and Opportunities” on p. 3). We can either stick our head in the sand or discover fundamentally new ways to see our problems, make decisions, and relate to others. Ultimately, the current circumstances invite us to cultivate a radically new approach to directing our businesses and our lives. To do so, we must become twenty-first century leaders.

Who Is the 21st Century Leader?

Twenty-first century leaders, and the organizations they head up, come in all shapes and sizes. They are:

  • Ari Weinzweig and Paul Saginaw, owners of the wildly popular Zingerman’s Deli in Ann Arbor, Michigan, a mid-sized enterprise that achieves sustained growth year after year through passion, purpose, and principled, well-managed strategies to benefit the company and local community.
  • Linda Distlerath, head of Global Health Policy at pharmaceutical giant Merck & Company, who collaborates with the Gates Foundation to guide a multi-year, $50 million strategy for mitigating AIDS in Botswana.</li.
  • Iqbal Quadir, founder of GrameenPhone, Bangledesh’s largest phone company, who uses the savvy of business not only to provide communication services to more than 50 million people, but also to encourage democracy in the region.
  • Dianne Culhane, director at the Coca-Cola Company, who takes care of her health so that she has the physical stamina, emotional grit, and mental ingenuity to meet the world spanning demands of her frenetic job.

Twenty-first century leaders are the professionals, managers, and human beings who choose mindfulness and inner wisdom as resources for success. They are motivated to transform human, financial, and natural resources into outcomes that serve both business and society. Instead of treating new markets, breakthrough technologies, and business profits as an end in themselves, twenty-first century leaders see these as instruments of a more authentic aim: constructive, long-lasting change.

Instead of growing organizations and brands for the sake of reputation or size, they use the power of their organizations and brands for the sake of well-being and effectiveness no matter where they operate.

True twenty-first century leaders don’t pursue do-gooder public relations ploys. They see a clear reality in today’s world: modern issues, like environmental challenges, and business results are inextricably coupled. As a result, it makes sense to redefine wealth altogether as “wellth,” an ideal that embraces sound economics and good health — personal, organizational, societal, and global. Through their wisdom, visions, and deeds, twenty-first century leaders are creating reference points of wellness and balanced growth from which to measure themselves and their organizations.

These leaders stand apart from the success-at-any-cost management style that reigned in the last few decades. They rise above conventional corporate logic to generate what we might call “enlightened” results. Essentially, twenty-first century leaders are carving out a new consciousness for living, working, and leading that stands the traditional model of business on its head. If you long to use your self and your skills as tools to help business and humankind function on a higher ground, you too may be a member of this ever-growing group.

Wellth-Driven Results



Twenty-first century leaders don’t choose goals randomly. They consider themselves stewards of changes that improve the health, prosperity, and effectiveness of people, businesses, and the larger natural and social worlds. These leaders are apt to regard wholes rather than parts, to influence and partner rather than intervene or force, to balance short- and long-term objectives rather than succumb to immediate pressures, and to create results using a naturally present momentum for change rather than foist new programs on the organization (see “Diagnosing a Problem Using a Systems View”). In turn, their businesses, large and small, actively seek ways to:

  • Transform collective difficulties, such as the digital divide or malnutrition, into social and business profit
  • Engage in industries that benefit humanity instead of only individuals
  • Shape consumers’ lives with marketing messages that are conscientious, truthful, and educational
  • Sponsor transparent audits of their financial, social, and environment performance
  • Use their aspirations, deeper purpose, core values, and company strengths to regulate and conduct strategies for business growth
  • Provide safe and healthy working conditions as well as cultivate a wellth-driven business culture
  • Use corporate power in ways that promote healthy and sustainable leadership practices in the larger geopolitical and economic arenas
  • Leave a legacy of leaders and initiatives that fosters the values of health and sustainability within the organization and around the globe.

Help the system you work with, such as a team

As systems architects, twenty-first century leaders see their jobs as generating environments and structures to promote self-determination, collaboration, and the healthy evolution of systems everywhere.

Becoming a Twenty-First Century Leader

To pursue a twenty-first century leadership agenda, start with these actions:

  • Choose wellth-driven outcomes. Help the system you work with, such as a team, business, or organizational culture, to connect with deeply held aspirations, a motivating purpose, and outcomes worth changing for. Select goals that are positive, meaningful, and relevant. When people believe in what they’re working toward, they are more likely to use their creative energy to achieve it.
  • Forecast the consequences. Consider the short- and longer-term impacts of your actions on multiple stakeholders—your company, the workforce, business partners, the environment, the communities you operate in, vendors, other alliances, and yourself. Factor these potential benefits and losses into your plans for change, and keep your plans aligned with the intent to produce good rather than harm.
  • Assess the readiness for change. Change is often like a roller-coaster ride, so prepare for the ups and downs. Assess your organization’s readiness for change by asking: Are we free of problems that would distract us from reaching our goals? Are we open to radical ideas and solutions, plus willing to let go of approaches that may prevent progress? Are we prepared to build on and go beyond the values of our past so that we can bring about greater health and effectiveness in our future? Can we commit the time, energy, and resources required to sustain our change for the long haul, especially when we hit bumps along the way? If the answer to any of these questions is “no,” consider what you and others need to rethink before embarking on your wellth-driven goals.
  • Determine your role in the change effort. Figure out how you, as a leader, can be a constructive and enabling influence. Uncover the deeper purpose, values, and strengths of your leadership, and allow them to guide your thoughts and actions. Doing so will help you bring the best of yourself to your leadership role and perform your responsibilities with a minimum of effort and maximum of enthusiasm and integrity.
  • Cultivate the capabilities of others. Assist the people you work with to contribute to the desired goals on their own. Your job isn’t to fix anything or anyone as an all-knowing, all-seeing expert; your role is to enable people to solve their own problems and create sustainable results, ultimately without your guidance or resources.
  • Ask strategic questions. For example, when stuck at an impasse, asking “How else could we interpret this?” could be just the right question to prod people toward views they’d never considered. Strategic questions open up new possibilities and deepen people’s ability to access their own wisdom. Additionally, these questions ensure that people are concentrated around the right challenges and aspirations, rather than responding from stress, denial, ignorance, or fear.
  • Influence and let go. As you influence change toward the desired results, let go of control. By design, a living system — individuals, teams, and whole cultures alike — cannot be externally controlled and thrive to their fullest. Shifting toward a new quality of results (i.e., a more integrated focus on the social and commercial impact by your company) will put different demands on the system; the system may respond by stopping short of its potential, resisting the change, or learning how to flourish. Stay in a facilitative role, show humility and respect, and pay attention to how the system changes best.
  • Apply standardized tools as appropriate. Utilize tools and methods only to the extent that they are useful. Human and natural systems are too unique for any one-size-fits-all approach. Technologies, such as change management techniques and strategic planning methods, are valuable guides to get new results, but they cannot be imposed in the same way every time for every living system.
  • Balance sustainability with growth toward wellth-driven results. To foster sustainable results, help people consciously manage the pursuit of change goals by identifying the internal and external barriers to change, rectifying these barriers, and exercising different values, structures, and practices for a healthier, more mindful, and more stable way of functioning.


Choose a problem that you are attempting to resolve. Based on your answers to the following questions, consider alternative approaches you can take to better

understand your problem and make sustained progress to solve it.

  • Am I pushing too hard or too directly on the system to resolve this problem? How might the system compensate to stay as it is?
  • Am I applying old or familiar solutions to this problem? What is the same aboutthis situation, and what might be different? What new options can I consider?
  • Am I trying to address this problem with quick, short-term solutions? How might these solutions slow me down or hurt my effectiveness in the long run?
  • What appears to be the obvious cause of the problem? What deeper causes could be contributing to it?
  • Am I trying to resolve this problem by applying a lot of resources, such astime, energy, money, etc.? Am I overwhelming the system with these resources? Alternatively, what small actions might I take to better use these resources as

    well as have a better impact?

  • Am I seeing my options for resolving this problem as an either/or choice? Howcan I generate other solutions to give me more latitude and freedom?
  • Am I blaming someone or something else for my problem? Who or what do I believe is inhibiting me or my problem-solving efforts? How might I be contributing to this problem with my thinking and actions?</li.

While you are carrying out all of these activities, don’t miss the most powerful tool you have at your disposal: you!

The Most Powerful Tool

Achieving wellth isn’t just for the benefit of business or society; it’s also personal. Twenty-first century leaders strive to live a life that reflects the same values of health and sustainability that they advance in their companies and the world. Among other things, a wellth-driven life actively integrates a sound mind, fit body, sense of belonging and purpose, spiritual core, and healthy emotional expression. It is a life of wholeness, meaning, competence, and effectiveness. In fact, a Stanford study of 53 successful leaders, including physicians, authors, philanthropists, managers, and others, found that these individuals not only take care of their health, they also draw on their health as a resource to meet challenges, solve complex problems, innovate, and productively lead. Wellth, then, isn’t merely the outcome or experience of how you live and lead; it is a prime resource for living and leading itself.

On the other hand, the lack of wellth can erode your leadership. Consider the predicament of many CEOs who spend their entire careers focused on improving organizational performance while ignoring their own health. According to a 2002 World Economic Forum report, “CEOs are increasingly suffering from stress, sleep deprivation, heart disease, loneliness, failed marriages, and depression, among other problems. And those woes are taking toll on the bottomline” (www.wef.org).

Thus, the personal well-being of CEOs directly affects the health of their businesses. Unhealthy CEOs and leaders at all levels lack the physical and emotional resilience, clear-headedness, and world-centric awareness to make the best decisions for their organizations and society as a whole. Without robust personal health, they can’t access the depth of wisdom they need to make their lives, projects, and businesses better, or to navigate complexity. The leaders don’t have the physical, psychological, or spiritual capacity from which to exercise the kind of leadership required in today’s world.

Your personal wellth is the most powerful change tool you possess. Prestige, titles, and money may come and go outside your control, but you always have the power to optimize your well-being. Personal wellth enables you to lead with inner authority rather than vacillation, discernment rather than thoughtlessness, resilience rather than burnout. As an individual, your wellth provides an inexhaustible energy supply, as long as you safeguard and manage it. When leading from personal wellth, your deeper inner truths naturally produce value in your outer life and work.


Are you taking care of your personal wellth? If you experience any of the following warning signs, you are already compromising your life and organizational well-


  • You have a hard time assimilating information, innovating, or learning. Lifeseems as though it is coming at you too fast, and most of the time you feel overloaded and overwhelmed.
  • You are unable to sustain the results you want in a way that’s healthy foryou.
  • You are less efficient and productive than you’d expect.
  • You don’t know how to bring your strengths to your role.
  • You are living and leading in conflict with your personal values.
  • Your sense of success is tied up in attaining money, prestige, or authority,often at the expense of a deeper quality of purpose or happiness.
  • You are just “going through the motions.”
  • You depersonalize and objectify others, often without knowing it. Relationships seem like a nuisance to you rather than core to your success. You may even find yourself in conflict with employees, family members, colleagues, and clients.
  • You have an inescapable feeling of personal inadequacy and emptiness. Youraccomplishments don’t mean as much as they once did. You’ve lost contact with the bigger reasons behind why you lead.
  • You hear distress in your language: My work feels arduous. I’m tired all thetime. Why do I do this every day? I can’t seem to strike a healthy balance in my life and

    work. I have nothing left to give.

  • You suffer physical and emotional symptoms, like chronic tension, naggingcolds, depression, and other maladies.

Are you taking care of your personal wellth? If you experience any of the warning signs, you are already compromising your life and organizational well-being (see “Personal Wellth Checklist” on p. 5).

This short list of warning signs sends a clear message: Focus on what it takes for you to feel personally whole, and learn to use your health as a resource for leading successfully. Your success — and the meaningful impact you can generate beyond you — relies on it.

Surprisingly, many leaders think these symptoms are the price they must pay for accepting a leadership role. On the contrary, they are a knock on the door, instructing you to realign your life based on balanced success. For the sake of your business, your life, and the health of society, explore the aspects of your well-being — such as your spiritual core, exercise, or friendships — that you can develop to bolster your psychological and physical well-being and, in turn, your overall effectiveness. What few changes could you make in your health today so that you are a better instrument of change for the welfare of others?

A Call to a New Kind of Success

Twenty-first century leadership is an evolutionary leap from the leadership styles we’ve known before. In the circles, today’s true leaders are using their selves and their businesses to elevate a wellth-driven consciousness, where health and sustainability is endeavored for its own sake rather than purely because of moral, legal, political, or commercial obligations.

What few changes could you make in your health today so that you are a better instrument of change for the welfare of others?

Instead of fixing crises using worn-out approaches, twenty-first century leaders use problems as the impetus to evolve healthier values and practices for the future. By attempting to use all forms of power more conscientiously and wisely—whether financial wealth, corporate reach, brand presence, charisma, or personal health—these leaders set the stage for innovative collaboration and decisions that embrace the whole. Essentially, twenty-first century leaders endeavor to align their lives, relationships, and companies with unfolding a deeper wellth for business and human evolution.

Renee Moorefield, Ph. D., is CEO of Wisdom Works, a firm that specializes in cultivating the mindfulness, health, and effectiveness of twenty-first century leaders as a strategy for conscious business and society. To learn more about the pioneering leadership programs, in-depth wellth assessments, services, and publications of Wisdom Works, contact: 303.772.9000.

Article adapted from Driven by Wellth: The 7 Essentials for Healthy, Sustainable Results in 21st Century Business & Leadership (by Julie Maloney and Renee Moorefield, Wellth Productions, 2004).

For Further Reading

Beck, Don, and Chris Cowan. Spiral Dynamics: Mastering Values, Leadership and Change (Blackwell Publishing, 1996)

Florida, Richard. The Rise of the Creative Class and How It’s Transforming Work, Life, Community and Everyday Life (Basic Books, 2002)

Paulson, Daryl, and Ken Wilber. Competitive Business, Caring Business: An Integral Business Perspective for the 21st Century (Paraview Press, 2002)

Pelletier, Kenneth. Sound Mind, Sound Body: A New Model for Lifelong Health (Simon & Schuster Adult Publishing Group, 1994)


First, read the article. Then, with a group or partner in your workplace:

  • Discuss the choices you face in your organization that you know will have larger implications for the future of your company, community, or life. In your role, do you ever experience a pull between upholding organizational values and making a profit? If so, what are some examples? How could you and your organization handle this conflict differently?
  • Assess your organization’s commitment to sustainable goals by referring to the bulleted list starting on page 4 under the heading “Wellth-Driven Results.” Is your enterprise poised for success in today’s climate? Why or why not? How can you contribute to helping your organization make the changes needed to thrive in the twenty-first century?
  • Discuss how you and your colleagues manage your personal wellth. Have you noticed links between your mental and physical well-being and your overall effectiveness? What few changes could you make so that you are a better instrument of change?

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