Real Leaders

How I Aligned Personal Values with my Staff and my Competitors for Greater Success

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For many years, I had been searching for feedback and insight from a group of impact leaders.

Other CEO support groups I had joined had a completely different set of motivations and perspectives on leadership and success. Being an impact leader comes with its own unique set of challenges. It’s hard to manage a company with both profit and purpose embedded at its center because there’s a natural friction between them, almost by design.

One of the highlights within my Real Leaders Impact Collaborative group has been the discussion around culture and people. Many of my peers have young, mission-driven staff that desire better, flourishing communities and a healthier planet. Likewise, as a CEO, these priorities are things I aspire toward too. It’s one thing to advertise that you’re a B Corporation and are mission-driven, but the big challenge is always how to balance that with your business priorities. Collaborating with CEOs who find themselves in the same situation can help unlock solutions that may otherwise seem impossible. These suggestions don’t always offer an instant fix but sometimes show a path toward a future solution that you can begin working on now.

One example is a recent discussion we had on financing and capital and voting with your dollars to create positive social change. In theory, this idea is a no-brainer, but in practice, it’s tough.

I had come away from a staff meeting the week before where I’d expressed my dissatisfaction that our company 401ks might be better positioned in support of social impact investing opportunities and, in so doing, become better aligned with our company and staff values. Up to that point, our 401k policies had been done through a single company, with a very generic approach that recommended only one fund for us. By seeking social impact-aligned 401k funds, we furthered our mission as an impact company, but more importantly, we had the opportunity to educate our staff about the social power of their dollars.

The word “collaboration” was used freely many years ago to signal a new way of doing business, where like-minded companies and individuals would combine forces to magnify their social impact. It was a new idea that broke previous business rules focused solely on competition. There’s a risk that as collaboration becomes the norm, competition between impact companies again becomes the dominant factor in a crowded market of those vying for social impact consumer spending. There will always be some level of healthy competition between similar brands, but what I see at every event I attend is a sea of nodding heads when the speaker on stage talks about the importance and opportunities of embedding social impact in your business. This tells me that a common, unifying idea has the potential to create more cooperation and joint agendas rather than competition. People are ready to listen and entertain ideas like never before. We should find strength in that because working together can help open up the emerging social impact market to new opportunities for all of us.

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