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Ed FreemanLeadership


“Leaders create conversations. If you can figure out how to create the right conversations for your organization, you really don’t need to make many decisions. Leadership is about ideas and people. Leadership without ideas is just the exercise of authority. Leadership without ethics is tyranny. Business leaders have to understand that picking the right people is the most important task they have. So, they have to face into their own ideas about what makes people tick.”

Ed Freeman on Leadership

To say that Ed Freeman has an unconventional approach to teaching, speaking, and consulting on leadership is an understatement. He approaches leadership from a variety of perspectives that have never been considered: theater, storytelling, leading with meaning. And he has collaborated with other thought leaders and their unconventional approaches, such as with John Mackey, founder and CEO of Whole Foods Market, on his theory of Conscious Capitalism.

Leading with Meaning

After many years of observing and advising senior executives, in 2011 Freeman, with his colleague David Newkirk, created a unique executive education experience, True Leadership: Leading with Meaning. The course focuses on helping executives examine their own ideas about leadership and what makes people tick. It draws on innovative thinking and exercises from letter-writing to the theater. The result is a breakthrough approach to developing leaders.
In addition, Ed has tied in the importance of ethics and leadership, and the role of purpose and value creation for stakeholders. Visit Darden Executive Education for more information and to register for this open-enrollment course.

Conscious Capitalism

While making money is essential for the vitality and sustainability of a business, it is not the only or even the most important reason a business exists. Conscious businesses focus on their purpose beyond profit and provides us with this sense of meaning and purpose.

By focusing on its deeper purpose, a conscious business inspires, engages and energizes its stakeholders. Employees, customers and others trust and even love companies that have an inspiring purpose.

Ed Freeman is one of the directors of the Conscious Capitalism organization, and with his co-directors, help companies find their purpose and connect the stakeholders to each other and to the company’s purpose, people, and processes.

Watch Ed’s interview with Conscious Capitalism co-director John Mackey, founder and CEO of Whole Foods Market, Austin, TX.

“Business has a purpose, and it evolves over time.”

John Mackey

“Theater is not just about thinking, understanding, and feeling, but it’s about doing things, getting up and actually doing something, enacting something. It’s a very powerful feeling.”

R. Edward Freeman

Each Spring, Ed transforms MBA students at the Darden School of Business into actors and directors to teach lessons about leadership through theater. During the final 36 hours of his one-week January term class, “Leadership and Theater: Ethics, Innovation and Creativity,” write, cast, produce, and perform an original stage play and perform it for staff, faculty, and students in the Abbott Center Auditorium.

The premise is that, just as in many business situations, the students have to manage the limitations they are given and work together to create a cohesive production from what generally starts as chaos. Learn more about the class and watch the documentary.


R. Edward Freeman and Brian Moriarty demonstrate why leaders need to tell a compelling story about where the organization is headed and how it will get there with Case in Point: To go from worst to first, alter the business model, published in The Washington Post, December 10, 2011. Read It


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On Friday, 15 November 2013, Ed Freeman spoke at Charlottesville, Virginia’s first TEDx event, TEDxCharlottesville—The Difference That Makes a Difference. His talk explained how business and business people can make a difference in the world, and why it's time for a new story about business as a difference maker.

Featured Publications

thumb-strategic-management-a-stakeholder-approach Featured Publication: Ed Freeman’s 1984 award winning book, Strategic Management: A Stakeholder Approach was reprinted in 2010 by Cambridge University Press. This book has served to define a starting point for subsequent scholars and executives and continues to inspire scholars and students concerned with a more practical view of how business and capitalism actually work.