About Us

The Heart of Leadership Development

We give people from the private, public and not-for-profit sectors the inspiration, skills and connections to become better leaders at work and in society.

We run local courses for 4,000 leaders each year in cities across the world and global programmes for leaders from over 100 countries across six continents.

Common Purpose intends to be the global provider of Leadership Development to help people of the world to work together to solve common problems.

Common Purpose is quite unique in that it provides a cross-sector platform to engage, empower and inspire people from the private, public and not-for-profit sectors to combine efforts and make cities work better. In doing so, participants enhance their confidence to make changes for the greater good of their organisations and society.

Ronald Arculli, Chairman, Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing Ltd, Chair, Common Purpose Hong Kong


  • 150 Staff
  • 20 years experience
  • 150,000 regular contributors


  • 4,000 participants each year
  • 40,000 alumni worldwide
  • $11 million turnover


  • 90% have already recommended Common Purpose to someone else
  • 1 in 3 have started a new initiative
  • 1 in 4 contribute regularly on programmes

The view from your office window seldom changes. If we want our leaders to see the bigger picture, they have to go out and see the world through other people's eyes.

Sir David Bell, Former Chairman, Financial Times Group and Board Member, Common Purpose Charitable Trust

Our thanks to Ridley Scott for their support in producing this film

We cannot wait for great ideas from great people to solve society's problems. We must look to each other. In a democracy, every one of us has the power to transform our own lives and the lives of the people around us. That is what democracy means.

Cyril Ramaphosa, Deputy President, Republic of South Africa, Founding Patron, Common Purpose South Africa

We are the global provider of leadership development to help people of the world to work together to solve common problems.

Global and local

We operate locally in major cities around the world (where the leaders want to encourage and develop the next generation) and we connect them up through our global programmes.

Common Purpose participant

Leadership development

We deliver experiential leadership development. As a result, all leaders, from all backgrounds - have a far wider impact.

experiential leadership development

Work together

We convene leaders across old and new divides so that they learn to innovate and cross boundaries in the same way that problems do - locally and globally.

leaders across divides

For over 20 years at Common Purpose, we have talked about:

  • The allegory of "the square" in the middle of a city or community, where people can join with others and can stand up with confidence.
  • The possibility that leaders can extend their horizons, change things beyond their direct control, work across and connect cultures, and come up with innovative solutions.
  • Our conviction that experience is the route to broader leadership learning. And that you can accelerate experience.

"We cannot wait for great visions from great people, because they are in short supply. We must all light our own small fires in the darkness."

Charles Handy, author and philosopher (speaking in London at a Common Purpose Alumni event in 2007)

This is ever more relevant because:

  • Cities matter more than ever.
  • Leaders from the public, private and community sectors know they need to work together more effectively.
  • Leaders want to be rooted, locally, somewhere.
  • Many organisations are looking for new ways to develop leaders.
  • Students are travelling for higher education and want more than just a degree.
  • Leaders from the East, West, North and South know they need to work together as equals.
  • Global problems call for global leaders to solve them.
  • People want to innovate, but are bogged down.
  • Leaders in countries emerging from crisis situations want to find their own solutions to the challenges they face.

problem solving exercise

Most problems spread across boundaries. Most leaders sadly stay within them. At Common Purpose we believe that this just has to change.

Julia Middleton, Founder and Chief Executive, Common Purpose Charitable Trust

The following is the Common Purpose Charter.

It guides all our work across the world.


In every society, there is an invisible, vital 'space'. It lies between the individual and the state between the immediate responsibilities facing each individual and the institutional responsibilities of the government.

It is a place where people come together and act for the greater good. And it is open to everyone, from every sector of society.

In an unhealthy society, this space is empty. People leave the decisions to governments.They are active in their private lives, but passive towards the world around them.

In a healthy society, this space is full. It teems with individuals, businesses, community organisations and political groups. It is alive with energy and entrepreneurial activity. People hold institutions and the powerful to account. They oppose and propose. And, free from the short-term pressures, they can think and act for the longer term and in the wider interest of society.

At Common Purpose, we have a passionate belief in the importance of this space. In our view, this is at the core of society. Active not passive. Involving the best leadership from all parts of the community.

Read an article on 'Civil Society' written by Sir Ralph Dahrendorf for the Common Purpose magazine


Our aim is to fill this space with as many people as possible- people who may not see themselves as leaders in a traditional sense - and to give them the inspiration, skills and connections they need to be effective.

To encourage all kinds of people into it - and to see all kinds of initiatives come out of it.

To discover new leaders in the bustling crowd - and to show the lone voices that they are not alone.

We develop leaders who can lead beyond their direct area of authority. Who can lead partnerships as well as organisations. Who can sustain broader perspectives and who are confident in making connections between quite different groups of people and reconciling different worlds.

We believe that they will then be able to counterbalance the forces of fragmentation in society, getting communities to work better together. They will be better at using and combining scarce resources. And though they may only seldom produce huge shifts, they will deliver the accumulation of many small ones from which most change emerges.


As we create a common educational experience within and across many countries, Common Purpose remains independent and non-aligned.

We are always balanced and owe no historical or other allegiance to any other group. Our independence is reflected in our governance, finances, partnerships, behavior and curriculum.

Professional teams create innovative and ingenious ways of working to ensure that all Common Purpose activities are high quality, stimulating, imaginative and fun.

The internationally recognised Chatham House Rule is respected on all programmes as an aid to free discussion. We draw on the widest possible variety of sectors, areas, beliefs and social groups. We would only exclude cities, organisations or individuals if they deliberately promoted the use of violence, opposed freedom of speech, or incited race or religious hatred.

We aim to be self-financing but work hard so that inability (as distinct from unwillingness) to pay is not a barrier to involvement in our activities.

Common Purpose staff behave as leaders themselves, delivering quality, taking risks, building on successes, adapting and evolving as society does across time and place and context. They seldom give up.

What is Leading Beyond Authority?

Most leaders establish their reputation inside their organisations, where they are given the authority to lead. But when they look to extend their leadership across the organisation - or outside it - the skills that have brought them success are suddenly not enough. The rules change - and the strategies need to change too. On Common Purpose courses around the world, our participants learn a new approach to leadership: one that can cope in unfamiliar territory, where authority has to be earned; that will take leaders beyond the closed world of their own organisations and make them effective in the outside world too. This provides them with a powerful set of new tools relevant to any leader, at any level, in any organisation.

In 2007, Julia Middleton wrote Beyond Authority drawing on the experiences of many leaders who had contributed to Common Purpose programmes over the years, sharing their experiences of leading beyond their authority.

The following is an extract from the Foreword, written by Sir David Bell:

It happens again and again. Bright, aggressive managers move quickly up an organisation and then, quite suddenly, find themselves becalmed. The skills that seemed to be serving them so well are just not enough. We have all seen the heads shake. He, or she, is "not very good with people" or "doesn't seem able to see the wood for the trees" or "is not very good at lateral thinking".

We know what this really means. They may be great, but somehow they are not quite leaders. Someone once said that there are actually three kinds of people: leaf people who just see leaves, tree people who see leaves and trees and, far more rarely, forest people who understand that leaves and trees make up forests and that forests are very different.

Julia is a forest person. And her book, Beyond Authority, is about what makes forest people, why they matter more than ever and what it takes to become one.

leading beyond authority


Beyond Authority: Leadership in a changing world

by Julia Middleton

leading beyond authority book cover

Buy it now on amazon

Or download a mail order form

Read the foreword by Sir David Bell

Download the first chapter


In Beyond Authority, Julia Middleton offers a refreshing and original perspective on leadership. She shows us how to implement our dreams and overcome obstacles - including the obstacle that no one asked us to do it in the first place. This is the right book for bureaucracy-bashers and social entrepreneurs who want to change the world.

Rosabeth Moss Kanter, Harvard Business School Professor and author of Confidence: How Winning Streaks and Losing Streaks Begin and End

What you will learn from this book is worth more than money. Not only will you learn to lead beyond your authority, but also how to be a better leader within your authority too. If you were only to buy one book about leadership, then it should be this.

David Puttnam, President of UNICEF (UK), former filmmaker

Julia Middleton has a contacts list to die for - and it shows in the enormous range of experience and wisdom she has been able to tap for this book. Effective leadership in the real world operates way beyond the conventional boundaries of business management and this book is both brave and successful in showing what it takes to succeed.

Sir Derek Higgs, Chairman, Alliance& Leicester plc

Beyond Authority is an insightful, highly relevant book on leaders who play key roles outside their spheres of influence. In a very lucid manner, Julia Middleton explains, with real-life examples and anecdotes, how leaders gain legitimacy in areas where they don't have control. This is an indispensable, inspiring book for leaders who hope to bring about real, tangible change: not just in their professions, but also outside them, in the broader community in which they live.

Narayana Murthy, Chairman and Chief Mentor, Infosys Technologies Ltd.

This book is like its author: original, surprising, clear as a bell, and really helpful. Good read too.

Prue Leith, businesswoman, celebrity cook and novelist

Julia Middleton knows about leadership in a truly natural yet profound way. If you do nothing else this year - read this book. It will be the beginning of something good.

Sir Gerry Robinson, Chair, Moto Hospitality Ltd, author of I'll Show Them Who's Boss! Six Secrets of Successful Management

What is Cultural Intelligence?

Organisations often appoint leaders for their IQ. Then, years later, sack them for their lack of EQ (Emotional Intelligence). Common Purpose argues that in the future they will promote for CQ - Cultural Intelligence: the ability to cross divides and thrive in multiple cultures.
Participants on Common Purpose programmes, as they learn to lead beyond their authority, need to be able to cross boundaries: between east and west, and north and south; between faiths and beliefs; between public, private and voluntary sectors; and between generations.

In 2014, prompted by the sucess of Beyond Authority, Julia Middleton wrote a second book which will be published on 22 May 2014. Using the same format, she spoke to leaders who had contributed on the increasingly global Common Purpose programmes and found boundaries difficult to cross.

In his Foreword to Cultural Intelligence, Ron Arculli, Senior Partner, King & Wood Mallesons, Hong Kong, says: "Julia Middleton has written a book about something that she and Common Purpose have been quietly practising everywhere they go: Cultural Intelligence, or CQ. To me, it is entirely fitting that Julia should take an idea and explore it with a whole variety of leaders from all over the world. Because, right from the start, Common Purpose has embodied what CQ stands for."

In the process, Julia has spoken to leaders all round the world and invited them to tell their own CQ stories: successful and disastrous, serious and funny, poignant, pragmatic and often highly personal. The result is surprising, challenging and frequently uncomfortable (there is no simplistic advice here about how to exchange business cards in the correct local manner). But the ambition is huge. As is the prize for the next generation of leaders who see the opportunity she outlines - and grasp it.

Right now, vast amounts of time and money are being invested all round the world in building global brands and organisations. But where are the global leaders who will lead them?

Cultural Intelligence

by Julia Middleton

Cultural Intelligence by Julia Middleton

For more information on Julia Middleton's new book, Cultural Intelligence, and to read about who is featured in it, download the flyer.

Watch Julia Middleton's talk on Cultural Intelligence: filmed at CSCLeaders 2014

Leaders featured in the book include:

  • Dr Reuel Khoza, Non-Executive Chairman, Nedbank
  • Mike Brearley, former England cricket captain
  • Diane Schneider, Head of Talent & Transformation, Deloitte
  • Riz Ahmed, Actor and Rapper
  • Bella Matambanadzo, Independent Consultant, Zimbabwe

Mike Brearley

Mike Brearley, speaking at CSCLeaders, London, 2013

Bella Matambanadzo

Bella Matambanadzo, feeding back to fellow participants, Oxford, 2013

riz ahmed

Riz Ahmed, LA, 2014

To order an advanced copy: cq@commonpurpose.org

Cultural Intelligence (CQ) is the ability to cross divides and thrive in multiple cultures.

Visit our CQ section to find out how to develop and assess your CQ.

Find out more.