Much has been written about leadership skills. But what does it take to lead an organization focused on impact, on social and environmental change, just as much as profits?
These organizations are special. They are the face of the changing business environment, as companies shift away from a profit-only focus to multi-stakeholder appreciation and social and environmental impact. They aim to hold both impact and profit as essential goals, hand-in-hand, complementing and supporting each other.
The data supports this partnership of impact and profit: companies that focus on impact have 12-50 times more revenue, a powerful argument for impact from a financial standpoint.
So what does it take to lead an organization that focuses on impact? It requires impactful leadership.
In my work with entrepreneurs and organizational leaders, and my research of high impact companies on the forefront of using business for good, even as they handsomely profit, I’ve found 6 skills that appear across the board in these successful CEOs and leaders:
The skill of self-awareness has two aspects: impact and behavior.
Impact: We all have impact, whether we are aware of it or not. Knowing that we have impact is the first step in self-awareness. Then we can begin to think about the kind of impact we are having.
Behavior: Impactful leaders are mindful about how their role influences interactions, and use that role to uplift and inspire. One example is to be curious about the impact that each individual in your company wants to have. That sets the stage for you to provide opportunities for that impact to happen.
Impactful leaders must hold the vision for the organization, perhaps not alone, but certainly consistently. Vision answers the question of what it’s going to be like around here when we achieve it. An impact-focused organization goes beyond that. It adds another dimension: what’s it going to be like in our community, in the larger world when we achieve that impact? Impactful leaders include these conversations in the development of strategy and implementation. As an impactful leader, you become the touchpoint for others to follow and return to when clarity or resolve waver.
Having impact requires a relentless commitment to that vision of impact. It’s not easy to infuse an organization with impact, which leads to the actions that are required to have impact and profits. For this infusion to occur, impact has to remain the focus throughout planning processes. It’s easy to let go of that focus when short-term issues and challenges overwhelm you and your employees. Rather than seeing it as a singular blindered focus that never shifts, it helps to see focus on impact as a process of constant course correction, as one would navigate in an airplane or ship.
This word from Buddhist philosophy and Biblical roots does a good job of capturing the attitude of the impactful leader. These leaders consider love in their decision-making. Steve Farber, a well-known leadership expert, characterizes love as “just damn good business” that is integral to leadership, teams, and competitive advantage. The caring in treating people with kindness is vital to engaging people with the organization’s impact purpose.
Lovingkindness also extends to yourself as a leader. Treating yourself with kindness and compassion on those inevitable occasions when you fail to meet your own high standards is crucial to your impact. None of us is infallible, even with a lofty vision that benefits the planet and people. It’s important to be as kind to yourself, to be loving with yourself, as it is to extend love and kindness to others.
- Resilience and perseverance
Beyond the resilience and perseverance required to achieve financial goals in the face of obstacles and challenges, an impactful leader must be able to move through the setbacks in having an impact focus as you work to achieve revenue goals. Despite the movement of the business world into the impact economy, stakeholders may still provide pushback if financial goals are not being met, pressuring organizations to abandon long-term impact goals in the old school manner of short-term profit-only.
Having impact also involves a multi-dimensional approach and includes new stakeholders, like governments, community organizations, and non-profits. It requires resilience and perseverance to establish these new connections and cooperative relationships. Impactful leaders model the importance of these aspects in the development of strategy and establishing goals for implementation.
- Commitment to growth
Impactful leaders are committed to growth: their own growth and that of the people they work and collaborate with. Becoming a better and impactful leader means leaving the old iteration of you behind, and moving into expanded ways of being that better serve you and the organization.
Supporting others in their own growth includes programs and opportunities for employees, as well as suppliers and joint venture partners. When all benefit, impact is expanded.
Perhaps you already see these skills in how you choose to show up in your organization. If you do, you’re on a beneficial track, and I hope you develop them further. Great leaders are always learning and growing.
If you see some gaps, and most of us do, knowledge of these skills will bring you to more awareness as you move through your day. Your leadership is made up of all the choices you make, day to day, in how you show up, how you treat people, how you choose to carry yourself. With greater awareness, you can start to develop your leadership skills in these areas.
Leading an organization that has impact is a special challenge, one that will require your own skills and growth to succeed. By knowing what to develop, you are one step closer to greater impact.