In Praise of 13 Unique Leaders: Reflections from a Social Enterprise Field Study in Cambodia

December 18, 2013 at 10:15 am Leave a comment

Each year a mix of community members and PSU students travel to India or Cambodia with Impact Entrepreneurs to spend a few weeks working, learning and collaborating with social enterprises. This year the group is in Cambodia. Here are their stories.

By Kate Rood

I probably use the word collaboration a couple dozen times a day at work. When I talk with executives about getting involved with our cross-industry leadership conferences, I use phrases like collaboration is the key to our future economic prosperity and strength in numbers and exchange best practices. The jargon is thick, but the value is real.

I can talk to any executive from any industry – public sector and private sector – and uncover a universal anecdote that goes something like: inspiring my team and delivering innovative results for my company is daunting and sometimes lonely work… I once had a particular project/launch/meeting/client that had me feeling particularly stuck… until a peer from a completely different world than mine shared something that made me think in a new way… their insight saved me time/made me money/saved me money/gave me new purpose.

This is a simplified storyboard for thinking about collaboration and the importance of spending time with a peer group that pushes you, but just like the stories from those C-suite execs, this trip has been full of conversations between 13 members of the PSU community who see things very differently, but who are open to the idea that their thinking can be improved by others. Hopefully we can all take these interactions back to our personal and professional lives with the intention to trade comfort for collaboration.

In particular, I learned something from each of the diverse leaders on this trip, and I’ll share what I think each teammate offered the group with the hope that there is some transferable wisdom for other social entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs:

Dennis taught us to keep moving no matter where we are. Explore. Cover ground. Map where you have been and where you are going. Momentum and activity generate change.

Erik taught us to expand our vocabulary for looking at wicked social problems to be inclusive of both business and public sector solutions. Business minds can learn from policy minds. Leaders who typically think in financial measures can and should take a lesson from the public sector at times, and vice versa.

Nick taught us the importance of quieting the mind and the role a mindfulness practice can play in creating the space for emotion and creativity in business.

Kim taught us that cultivating a deep and diverse personal network is potent. The role of a connector is important and all of us should strive to connect people in our lives that might not meet otherwise if it weren’t for our vision to bring them together.

Brian showed us a model for grace and humility. His empathy is genuine, his reflections meaningful, and his natural ability to lead without politics or posturing is an example of how to be truly present in a group.

Rebecca taught us the power of a strong sense of self. When work puts you in new places, there is value in setting boundaries and knowing what works for you and what doesn’t. From that grounded place, you can create an environment that brings out your best self.

Melissa showed us that a willingness to be changed is the best foundation for learning. Her open and eager attitude cultivates confidence in her and those around her, uncovering opportunities that might otherwise not appear.

Devin taught us the power of inquiry and curiosity. There is so much to be gained from having genuine and persistent curiosity and the will to explore. From Devin we learned not to settle, but to keep searching beyond the surface level for the information that will make a real impact.

Tanya taught us that there is reward in “beginners mind,” even with deep expertise in a particular field. There is reward in reserving judgment and conclusion as long as possible, just as there is reward in sharing expertise well cultivated.

Pascal taught us the universal power of building rapport and developing strong connections. Charisma is a tool, use it to make bonds quickly and lay the foundation for candid collaboration.

Jacen reminded us to take risks to see reward. Social impact business has risk. Collaboration generates uncertainty. But a kind heart, clear intentions and a little bit of trust, perseverance and humor go a long way.

Carolyn taught us to always seek out a theory of change, to strive for outcomes beyond actions, and to know your purpose.

Thank you to all of my collaborators for the past 10 days. Here’s to being changed by each other for years to come.

Entry filed under: Cambodia Study Abroad. Tags: , , , , .

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