What Cornerstone Have You Set For Your Business?

Most businesses are launched without much consideration to the cornerstone that is initially laid and from which the growing business will take its form. Moreover, as the years progress and the business journeys forward, many of the challenges it will face come directly from any weakness in this original cornerstone.


Active Knowledge Question:

What is the cornerstone that you laid for your business?


The Cornerstone

In a traditional context, the cornerstone identified the first stone set in the construction of a masonry foundation and from which all other stones would be set. It, therefore, determined the positioning of the entire structure and also its functionality, usefulness and longevity as a building. If the cornerstone was poorly or incorrectly set, the whole construction would be substandard.

The language of cornerstone has become common in many contexts, but its traditional meaning I believe has particular relevance in the formation of businesses.

Many business founders create the cornerstone for their business without even appreciating the enduring impact of their actions. Cornerstones once laid are very difficult, if not impossible, to alter.


The Cornerstone Of A Business

When I think of the cornerstone of a building, what comes to mind is:

  • The strength of the material it is made of;
  • How well it is bedded down and laid, and
  • The correctness of its positioning.

The cornerstone of a business also has three interdependent qualities that will determine whether it has set the right foundation for the growth of a successful business, the:

  • Strength of purpose for which the business is being formed – positioning.
  • Motive underpinning the creation of the business – bedded down.
  • Worthiness of the founding leader/s – strength of material.

These qualities are interdependent, and one cannot endure, nor really exist, without the presence of the others.

I will unpack each of these qualities in more detail but simply:

  • Purpose reflects the need for which that business is being formed.
  • Motive reveals the nature of the energy that is behind that purpose.
  • Worthiness of leadership represents the character of the founding leaders.

Each of these qualities will have a profound effect on the capital value, profitability and market impact of any business.


The Three Qualities

If we consider each of these three qualities, we will see why they form the cornerstone of a business and why they are fundamental in setting its future success.

Purpose – Positioning

Purpose is not profit, that is an outcome of purpose and not a substitute for it. Purpose must deliver meaning and a focus on customer need and value, and therefore sets direction.

Purpose says, ‘as a business we are here to meet this need within this community’. And therefore, it keeps everyone focused on the customer value you are competing to deliver.

Through this focus, you can become the best of the best in delivering that value.  And the focus on that evolving customer need can then become a source of innovation and growth. It allows you to lead change and not chase it.

Without such a defining purpose, a business can readily become directionless and chase every potential opportunity that appears before it. Whereas a well-stated purpose provides identity, a reason for the business’s existence and that can become limitless if you allow that purpose to search out emerging needs. It becomes what you excel at and can outcompete everyone else at.

Motive – Bedded Down

If you understand someone’s motive, then you will be able to assess their capacity, capability, and their likelihood to succeed. In fact, you will know the ceiling to their success. And businesses are exactly the same.

The core strength of any business is the combined talent and effort of everyone working within and with a business. And what determines the strength and impact of that core is motive. The right motive magnifies and compounds that strength, whereas the wrong motive disperses and neutralises it.

The greatest fallacy of our time is that businesses exist to profit. And that their motive is, therefore, to maximise that profit each and every year – for many, profit equals and is motive.

But making profit the motive for being in business is the least effective motive that a leader can set for their business. Profit is an outcome. It is one of the results of the efforts of a business to outcompete everyone else in its market – outcompete through the value they deliver to their customers.

A motive of profit will disperse and neutralise the combined talent and effort of a business. The motive of a business should be to compete.

Leadership – Strength

Worthy leadership is the single most important determinant of the competitiveness, and, therefore, the success of your business. Everything flows from leadership but note the emphasis on ‘worthy’.

The ceiling to the success of your business lies in your leadership team’s level of worthiness, with the lowest dominator setting that ceiling. That is, your weakest leader sets the limit of your success.

Worthiness lies in character. Are leaders focused on their self-interest or all they focused on building the competitiveness of the business? Do they possess wisdom, courage, discipline and sincerity?

And through these traits be able to build relationships founded in trust with all who work within and with their business — allowing them to engage the combined talent and effort of the business to outcompete all others.


On the formation of a business, the laying of the cornerstone, the seeds are set for purpose, motive and the worthiness of leadership. If thought and consideration are not given to the impact of this cornerstone on the future success of a business, then the potential of a business may never be reached.


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All the best in the success of your business,

Richard Shrapnel