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John Whitehead and Purpose-Driven Leadership

Measured by his peers’ opinions and memories, John Whitehead was a giant.

One way to measure a person’s impact is through her peers’ opinions and memories.

By this standard, John Whitehead was a giant.

Michael Bloomberg called him “one of the greats of the Greatest Generation.”

Lloyd Blankstein, Goldman Sachs CEO, said Whitehead’s “legacy will endure in the institutions he led and in the lives of those he cared for and mentored.”

What can we learn from Whitehead (and so many others)? The answer is purpose-driven leadership.

Whitehead was a man who found purpose in serving his country, his community, and his colleagues:

  • He led troops during the invasion of Normandy
  • He devoted his career to one team: Goldman Sachs
  • He drafted and institutionalized Goldman’s Business Principles, literally defining why and how the company operated
  • He served as Deputy Secretary of State during the critical years before the end of the Cold War
  • He chaired the organization that was responsible for redeveloping lower Manhattan after 9/11

Too many people — all ages, all professions — waste their valuable time with uninspiring people and uninspired work.

If your closest friend or colleague wrote your obituary, what would you want it to say?

Your answer to this question is a good proxy for your purpose.

That’s what we can learn from John Whitehead.