Most social entrepreneurs I know start their organization because they have a burning desire to create change in society — to bend the arc of history towards justice. They’re visionary, brave, and have passion pouring out of their pores. In short, they want to create and innovate.
Most social entrepreneurs I know, however, don’t start their venture because they relish the idea of managing an organization — of creating roles and responsibilities, leading budget meetings and coordinating steering committees. In short, they don’t want to be a manager.
Yet it’s great management that will take incredible visions and transform them into enduring structures, which can outlast any single person. And while managing is both a science and an art, which can never be perfected, there are absolutely some small things that can make a huge difference right away.
I have some good news and some bad news.
Here’s the bad news: there is no single tool to learn. No approach to master. No hidden treasure that all great social entrepreneurs have that would make you a star too, if you only had that key.
The good news? It’s all about having the right mindset, which enables and empowers one to accomplish great things. And this mindset is accessible to anyone and everyone.
From my time coaching, advising and supporting social entrepreneurs around the world, I’ve come to believe that there are three things great social entrepreneurs have in common.
In the startup world, Eric Ries has helped push forward the notion that the goal of a startup is to learn as much as possible, as quickly as possible. In fact, it’s my very favorite definition of a startup.
As a social entrepreneur, so too is your job to learn — not just about your organization but also about yourself as a leader.
Yet with the pressures to build a team, pitch funders, measure impact, scale programs and run daily operations, there’s all too much pressure to put on blinders and simply charge ahead without pausing to reflect.
It's only a couple of years after leaving the social enterprise I co-founded, that I realize just how much I truly learned from the experience — probably more in two months than I did in two years of graduate school! But I only realized these lessons when I finally had the time to reflect after the fact — I never did a very good job of learning on the job. And to think how much stronger I would have been as a leader if I had taken the time!
In my current role coaching, mentoring and advising social entrepreneurs, I recommend they do three things to maximize their learning as a changemaker, which I am happy to share with you so that, unlike me, you can learn as much as possible right now.
Every non-profit I have ever advised, coached and joined has been in a constant state of pinching-pennies, euros and kroner. In a world where funding is often scarce and pressures from boards and funders to keep overhead low are fierce, it seems that the bottom line is always to protect the organisation’s bottom line.
Despite persuasive arguments from the likes of Dan Pallotta that the way we think about overhead costs in non-profits is completely wrong, overwhelming pressure still exists to spend as little money as humanly possible in subjugation to a greater social mission.
Despite this, I believe that there are 3 specific areas where it’s imperative that non-profits spend more money, rather than less. And paradoxically by spending more money in these ways, it will reduce the total amount of money the organization spends over the long-term, all while magnifying the impact.
The story of leadership is often told through the lens of a single leader and a singular act — Martin Luther King rallying crowds at the Lincoln Memorial; Eleanor Roosevelt leading the creation of the declaration on human rights; Henry Kissinger setting foot in Beijing.
As a result, we often conflate acts of leadership with positions of leadership.
This narrative, however, has obfuscated what it truly means to be a leader. Leadership is not something bestowed upon a person by virtue of a title or position, but rather the sum of a continuous series of opportunities in which a person consciously decides to display acts of leadership.
Resumes can only tell us two things: the ”what” and the ”where” of an applicant. What they have done in the past and where they did it.
What actually matters in finding the perfect employee, though, is their ”why” and their ”how”. These key traits determine why they do what they do, and how they approach new opportunities or challenges.
As Aline Lerner eloquently put it: resumes suck. (Yes, she has quantitative data to back it up).
I’ve given up on resumes for anything more than the most basic checks for qualifications. Instead, I’ve found six key traits that I look for in cover letters and interviews. Below you’ll learn more about each trait, why it matters and questions you can ask to test for each one.
One of the most common questions that comes up among social entrepreneurs in our incubator is how much they should charge for their product or service.
The truth is, I’m not qualified to answer that.
And, honestly, neither are they.
Instead I give them two recommendations, which taken together have yielded amazing results.
1. It’s probably more than you think.
2. Don’t guess. Instead, test.
In case you missed it, the internet was ablaze this weekend with talks about Amazon’s work culture. The New York Times published a scathing expose of life in the Seattle company’s headquarters, which prompted passionate debate on both sides and even rebuttals from employees. The article painted a picture of a brutal, soul-crushing, data-driven, relentless culture, one which forced a woman to work the day after a stillbirth, and encouraged employees to backstab coworkers with anonymous feedback.
While it’s easy to simply give in to our lizard brain and either reactively grumble and moan or instinctively defend hard-charging corporate culture, moments like these importantly provide a chance for us to reflect on our own leadership values. Here are a few questions we should be asking ourself in light of the debate on Amazon’s culture:
As the world celebrates Jon Stewart’s contributions to comedy, news and politics and mourns his departure from The Daily Show, many people are forgetting that Stewart is more than just a talented satirist. He’s an outstanding leader.
Here are three leadership lessons we can learn from Stewart from the way he approached his work and his team.
While our society traditionally values IQ over EQ, The Donald’s last month of surging ahead in polls fuelled by hateful rhetoric only to be cut down when brand after brand after brand no longer want to be associated with him, shows that EQ is actually more important than IQ when it comes to long-term, sustainable success.
Why are some people truly amazing mentors while others — even with years of experience — fail to contribute? I believe that anyone can be a great mentor, so read on for three ways you can become the mentor that entrepreneurs dream of.
Culture is crucial.
The truth is that your organization is going to have a culture whether you, as the entrepreneur, define it or not. Even the lack of culture is, in and of itself, a culture. So the question is: will you step up and define your culture? Or will you just sit back and let it define you?
You are not your pitch deck. You are not your perfectly manicured excel bar chart showing just that magical inflection point where your growth turns into a hockey stick. And you are not your minimum viable product. You are you. And that’s exactly the point.
Defining the constituencies a social venture supports seems like one of the simplest questions a social entrepreneur faces — after all bigger is better, right? In reality, it’s one of the most difficult and important questions to ask as you begin your journey as a changemaker — and it takes a lot of thought and hard choices to get it right. So before you get started, read on for tips on how to clearly identify who is — and who is not — in your target group.
If you pick a stranger off the street and tell them your vision statement, the best question they can ask afterwards (okay, besides, ‘can I invest in you?’) is: how? (e.g., how do you do that?). This means that you have them hooked and can now explain your practical path to achieve your vision. The worst question they can ask is ‘But, why do you do that?’ If you’ve failed to sell them on the ‘why,’ then nothing else matters.