Leadership Q&A: Aaron Hurst, The Purpose Economist

Which leader (dead or alive) would you most want to have dinner with? Why?

I have been doing a lot of research on the connection between our psychological development and how it impacts our orientation to work when we start our careers. Erik Erikson did the foundational work on psychological stages of development, and I have a ton of questions for him right now. It would be great to bring him back to life and ask him over dinner. We both come from Jewish German descent as well, so I am guessing we would like similar food.

How does leadership approach vary depending on the size or focus of the organization you’re leading?

As a leader of small organizations, so much of your impact is directly about your work and how you model behavior and values. You can have a tremendous direct influence and can also be involved in every hire. The challenge with leading when you scale and get bigger is building a culture and systems that can do the same thing with you out of the room. This is all about creating the right culture and finding the right criteria for hiring people. Too many people hire non-purpose-oriented candidates when they scale, and it kills their culture.

What do you think is your biggest leadership strength?

My good friend Caroline Barlerin once called me a pragmatic optimist. That is a pretty good summary of my strength as a leader. I believe in the potential to create historic change but value the hard daily work necessary to get there.

What’s the hardest business decision you ever had to make? What was the outcome?

The hardest decisions are always about letting go of people, partnerships, and products. I see the potential in everything, and it is so hard to give up on something. But unless we do, we can never focus to realize the potential of anything.

Where or how did you learn your most valuable leadership skills or lessons?

My most valued leadership skills have come from serving on the board of directors with organizations such as Public Architecture and BoardSource. Observing how other leaders operate has proven invaluable. Being able to experiment with my own role and how I can add value to the team has been a great source of experiential learning.

About Aaron

Aaron Hurst is a globally recognized entrepreneur who works to create communities that are empowered to realize their potential. He is the CEO of Imperative, a technology platform that enables people to discover, connect, and act on what gives them purpose in their work.

Widely known for his thought leadership, he is the author of The Purpose Economy (2014), the founder and an active advisor to the Taproot Foundation, and was the creative force behind the conception of the national Billion + Change campaign. 

Aaron is a member of the Nonprofit Times’ Power & Influence Top 50, and has been recognized as a top social entrepreneur by Fast Company, Ashoka, Draper Richards Kaplan Foundation, Manhattan Institute, and the Commonwealth Club. In 2009, he received the highest honor bestowed on an alumnus of the University of Michigan.

He currently resides in Seattle with his wife, Kara, their two children, and a dog.