Leadership, or lack of leadership, is a hot topic right now on many fronts, including within the business world. With so many urgent challenges across the globe, deeply troubling local tragedies, and ongoing community concerns, it’s a critical moment for social impact professionals at all levels to step up, get engaged, and lead. However, just when strong voices are needed most, many companies and executives have become increasingly quiet around social issues and current events.
As a consultant in the social impact arena for almost thirty years and someone who is relentlessly committed to advancing business and societal impact around some of our world’s toughest issues – it’s time for all of us to find our inner strength and drive to flex our muscles and figure out where we can lead.
It is understandable why today many people may be more reluctant to share opinions or take risks inside their companies and communities. The pushback from external stakeholders and activists is real and can also be scary.
At the same time, I’m hearing all too often from my clients – seasoned practitioners within corporate social impact, ESG, and corporate foundation functions – that their executives are not providing the same level of support and guidance as they had previously. They feel isolated, questioned, and pushed beyond their limits, less empowered than ever to create change. I hear things such as:
“Our executives are not providing clarity around how they define success.”
“We are feeling pressured to take a safer, more proven route in how we invest our resources.”
“Our employees want us to take action, but we are not getting the resources we need.”
Our profession isn’t for the weakhearted. Although, the ability to implement “fresh” ideas, fail forward, apply best practices, and commit long-term on issues is getting harder and harder, now is the time our voices and actions are needed most!
To lead inside and outside of our organizations, we must be bold, strategically take risks, and leverage the wealth of resources at our disposal to drive progress. We each have an opportunity to apply our energy and skills to take on pressing societal issues on behalf of our businesses and stakeholders.
Here are some ways to ignite your confidence to maximize your seat at the table and maintain a positive mindset:
Become the Expert in Room:
Information is power. Dive more deeply into understanding the complex social issues your company is focused on and be sharp about how it is relevant and connected to your business. Read the most recent research. Talk with your partners and top issue experts to update your data and stories. Capture and share your issue trends, needs and solutions. Create opportunities to coach your colleagues as strategies are formed and challenged.
Represent the Diverse Opinions of Others:
Become a conduit for sharing a wide range of opinions from people who are likely not represented in current decision-making processes. These voices may include employees, community leaders across all sectors, and, of course, beneficiaries of our social impact programs. Get away from your desk and out into the community. Engage in dialogue, journal what you are seeing and hearing, and bring their voices, realities and ideas into your team’s decision-making. Our work is human-centered and is constantly shifting, so it’s key to do this regularly.
Create an Informed Point of View:
There are endless decisions being made about how your companies are going to make investments, engage stakeholders and play a leadership role in the coming year(s). Apply your updated issue and field/community data to carve your point of view based on what is and is not working in your social impact programs. Create some criteria to form your perspective. Trust it and share it at meetings, via a thought piece or even through a visual. Social impact work is both art and science. We need many voices engaged “at the table” to fuel sound decision-making.
Put Your Personal Strength(s) into Action:
Activate what you do best. Take on the work where you have the potential to create the greatest impact. Ask to become a part of workstreams that will demonstrate your strongest skills and energy at play. If you have hidden communications and writing skills not being utilized, then take on a project to develop compelling stories and share the impact of your work. Bring forth your hidden talent or experiences to fuel the strategy and execution.
Find Outlets for Your Personal Cause Passions:
Cultivate a workplace culture where we can be our authentic selves and comfortably share our personal opinions about issues we care about. Foster communities for self-expression, hands-on service and relationship-building are important experiences that shape our confidence and knowledge and prepare us to take social issue action.
Let’s emerge from the fear and silence and demonstrate what positive action looks like. Be bold. Bring others’ voices and your point of view front and center, trust yourself and put your strengths to work with determination every day.
Onward with courage!