True to Yourself: Leading a Values-Based Business

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How do you build the kind of company you've always wanted to work in--one that serves people and the planet while being financially successful, too? What do you do when you believe that business should serve the common good, but everyday business pressures--meeting payroll, battling competition, keeping customers and investors happy--are at a fever pitch? Leading a small business when you measure success more broadly than with a single financial bottom line is no easy task. True to Yourself is a practical guide to doing just that. It provides tools you can use to combine profit with purpose, margin with mission, value with values.

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1 The New Values TRANSPARENCY, SUSTAINABILITY, AND RESPONSIBILITY

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The birth moment for an organization is critical. Almost like conception, the genetics are set, and if you are not conscious of them, they can lead to an organization with a set of values and mission the founder doesn’t want. You need to spend a lot of time on your initial mission and values, as they will attract the founding group of people and develop the organization’s personality. Be mindful of the founding moment.

MARK A. FINSER, PRESIDENT OF RSF (RUDOLF STEINER FOUNDATION), A $90 MILLION (2005) NONPROFIT FINANCIAL SERVICES ORGANIZATION

In this chapter, we’ll learn the three strategic requirements for building a successful values-based small business. The sooner you focus on these organizational values, the easier your job will be. It all starts with your example.

During my years as a Harvard Business School professor, I learned about leadership and strategy from the most successful CEOs of the world’s largest corporations. In the 1980s and 1990s, I listened closely to General Electric’s Jack Welch, who I believe set the standard for how to lead a profitable global 14 corporation. His leadership mantra was simple: To dominate your markets, you must focus on what will increase your reputation and productivity or decrease your costs of regulation. Your success in managing these three factors will determine the success of your business.

 

2 The Three Cs COMPETENCE, COMPASSION, AND COMMITMENT

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Work is a tremendous testing ground of who you are as a human being. Through the practice of Zen [Buddhism], I help business leaders become open-hearted, compassionate human beings. I want them to develop their intellectual competencies, too, but not be blind to the people side of business. The real work of leadership is to keep both sides in the service of other people.

MARC LESSER, FOUNDER AND PRESIDENT OF ZBA ASSOCIATES, A COACHING, CONSULTING, AND FACILITATION COMPANY

Three personal characteristics are essential for every successful values-based small business leader. In this chapter, we’ll learn the definitions of these character attributes and the importance of developing and modeling them for the entire organization. They reflect the soft skills necessary for the hard work of building successful relationships—the foundation of the five leadership practices presented in chapters 3 through 7.

When I joined Social Venture Network in 1989, cofounder Josh Mailman asked me how we could bring the corporate social responsibility movement into the world’s business schools. I talked with MBA students and other SVN members, notably social entrepreneur and investor Richard Perl, and after four years of discussions and fund-raising, Students for Responsible Business was born, since renamed Net Impact. 34

 

3 Turn Your Values into Value

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Everyone is always trying to find out, How can my business be different from someone else’s? How can my business be unusual? Well, don’t look too far, because the way that your business can be unusual is by having it reflect yourself. Everybody is different, and if your business actually reflects you as an individual, it’s going to be different. My business expresses who I am.

JUDY WICKS, FOUNDER AND CEO OF PHILADELPHIA’S WHITE DOG CAFE, WHERE “GOOD FOOD AND FUN LURE INNOCENT CUSTOMERS INTO SOCIAL ACTIVISM”

The first stage in the process of leading a best-in-class values-based small business is translating your values into a business proposition. In this chapter, we’ll review common myths and examples of how to capitalize on your values effectively.

Leadership starts with you—who you are, what you care about, and what you want to see happen. Business is about the creation of value. Your job is to orchestrate how that value is created. So how can you create market value if you do not know what your values are?

 

4 Walk Toward the Talk

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There’s often a disconnect between being a responsible business externally and what it means to do that internally. The singular style of an entrepreneur conflicts with the ability to build a holistic internal culture to support it. The marketing skills used to build sales are different than the leadership skills needed to build the culture. It’s a slow process that’s a lot less tangible than what happens in the marketplace. It’s hard to focus on process when you’re used to focusing on results. It’s hard to sit back and let other people do stuff you think you can do better.

JEFFREY HOLLENDER, FOUNDER AND CEO OF SEVENTH GENERATION

The second stage in the process of leading a best-in-class values-based small business is institutionalizing values in your organization. In this chapter, we’ll discover the common myths and review examples of how to build an organization that reflects your values.

You launch a company that reflects your values. You want to do something special and satisfy multiple personal, financial, and social objectives. So you start hiring people who have those values as well as the skills you need. Meanwhile, you’re focused on getting sales, raising more capital, and making sure everyone gets paid. But now lots of eyes are watching you in other ways, too. 74

 

5 Communicate with Care

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Kate [wife and manager] gets people to open up and find solutions. She’s taught me how to become inquisitive, rephrase things back to people, ask probing questions, and be discerning. I’m learning how to tell what’s a burning bush and what’s a land mine in deciding when to intervene and when to just listen. For me to do that, I must bring out my emotions.

DARELL HAMMOND, COFOUNDER AND CEO OF KABOOM!, THE NATIONAL $18 MILLION NONPROFIT CONSTRUCTION COMPANY THAT BUILT 850 PLAYGROUNDS IN A DECADE

The third stage in the process of leading a best-in-class values-based small business is communicating with the care required of leaders. We’ll learn about common myths and review examples of this core leadership practice, including how to change people’s behavior by connecting with their emotions.

You’re trying to establish your values in the marketplace and build a culture in the workplace. What makes that happen? Communication. In my previously mentioned research project with Goldman Sachs on the best predictors of increased stock valuation, the number one predictor was the quality of intracompany communication channels. And who’s at the center of your company’s communication efforts? That’s right, you.

 

6 Facilitate Personal Growth

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Each of us has a spark of life inside us, and our highest aspiration ought to be to set off that spark in one another … At Bioneers, personal transformation begins with the lifting of spirits just by the act of coming together, recognizing we’re not alone. You can see people changing as they’re touched by the power and possibility they feel emanating from the group. That’s the power of Bioneers to effect personal and global transformation.

KENNY AUSUBEL, FOUNDER OF BIONEERS, AN ANNUAL ENVIRONMENTAL CONFERENCE

The fourth stage in the process of leading a best-in-class values-based small business is facilitating personal and, thereby, organizational growth. You’ll learn about common myths and read examples of the practice of change, starting with your organization—and you.

If nothing else, business is about change. To be successful, companies can’t become too attached to any product or service. They need to be nimble and self-teaching. “Change or die” is the acknowledged motto. That’s your best bet, too. If you don’t listen, if you don’t adapt and grow, how will your organization remain competitive? How will your employees be challenged toward greater personal fulfillment and professional contribution if you don’t lead the way? 112

 

7 Collaborate for Greater Impact

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Leadership styles evolve. There’s always the visionary role to some extent, but inspiring and envisioning gets old. Influencing, cajoling, and collaborating are more sustainable. Great values-based leaders are colearners. They’re not mentors but more bidirectional nurturers. Nurturing the genius in others is how to be most effective. For most leaders, it’s a huge learning process to move from hierarchy to collaboration, and for some, it’s impossible.

TOM REIS, PROGRAM DIRECTOR, PHILANTHROPY AND VOLUNTEERISM, W. K. KELLOGG FOUNDATION

The fifth and final stage in the process of leading a best-in-class values-based small business is collaborating for greater impact. We’ll look at some common myths and examples of the practice of collaboration beyond your company’s borders that will increase your ability to create a world that reflects your values.

The practice of collaboration within a company has been well documented over the past twenty years. Similarly, the ins and outs of successful mergers and acquisitions have received much attention. This discussion, however, is about the spirit of Tom Reis’s advice taken a step further to include stakeholders beyond employees and beyond the traditional boundaries of a company. A good previous example is Judy Wicks, who “collaborates” 132 with competitors to increase the demand for free-range pork in Philadelphia.

 

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