Achievement unlocked: Two weeks into this CEO gig and no one's resigned. Winning!
In this fortnight's Ko Lab, more thoughts on being a 'leader', an update on the social venture ecosystem report, and 'fessing up to an addiction.
In my last newsletter, I mentioned that I had spent the lead up to my stepping into the CEO position at Leadership Victoria 'meditating on how I show up as a leader'. As soon as I hit send though, something about that phrase stuck with me. What does it even mean to call myself a 'leader'? I mean, it's not like I've been rocking up to work thinking: "I'm going to leader so hard today." And yes, I might have the title of CEO which infers a position of leadership but frankly, anyone can start a business and call themselves a CEO and – as I'm sure everyone can attest to – we've all observed leaders who are anything but.
So humour me on this thought experiment: What if I don't claim the label of 'leader'? What does that do? Would that manifestly change my behaviour?
If I look at my past couple of weeks and strip away any notion of being a 'leader', what it leaves me with is a mode in which I've focused on helping people clarify problems and provide directions, on rolling my sleeves up with the team to build meaningful solutions, on talking and listening to everyone so I understand what help they need.
I acknowledge that from a formal governance perspective the ultimate weight of decision-making rests with me but honestly, that's never really crossed my mind. Largely, I've been making decisions simply because a decision was needed to address a problem or provide a direction, and it was almost always done in collaboration with someone.
Thus – and this is the bit that feels odd to me – if I re-introduce the notion of being a 'leader', it almost feels like I would be adding an extra layer of expectation, that somehow I'm supposed to behave differently because I'm a 'leader'. I don't feel that I should behave like a 'leader' just because I've claimed the label; I should behave in a way that is genuine to myself, relevant to the work, and helpful and supportive of other people, and they can decide whether to bestow on me the label of 'leader'.
Anyway, that's as far as my musings have taken me (though I've also had similar thoughts about 'entrepreneur' too, another label I'm loath to claim). What do you think?
Last week, I attended the launch of Australia's Social Venture Ecosystem Report, which is now publicly live here. The report covers an investigation into the landscape of supporting programs and 'Apex organisations' (i.e. intermediaries, peak bodies, incubators, accelerators, etc) for early-stage social ventures. Or putting it plainly, what's the landscape of people and organisations who are helping social enterprise startups?
I shared my opinions on the overall findings in my previous newsletter so I won't re-prosecute however I do want to share two graphs that stood out strongly to me in the webinar. The first shows the breakdown of these 'apex activities by 'type of program'.
The other graph that stood out shows the duration of the Type 1 programs.
I don't know how I feel about this. My (somewhat cynical) interpretation is that half of these apex activities exist to just teach people how to launch social enterprise startups. 83% of these programs run for less than 6 months, and half of those run for less than 3.
Now I want to be very careful in drawing a distinction that I'm not suggesting people shouldn't be encouraged to start social enterprises. What I am suggesting is that it's not easy; that it's all well and good to teach people how to start something but as any founder would tell you, the hardest bit is figuring out how to make an idea genuinely sustainable (social enterprise or not).
My reaction in the webinar spawned a new thought inspired by this quote from author Neil Gaiman: "You learn more from finishing a failure than you do from writing a success.” Given there are so many intermediaries that exist to help people start social ventures... should there be some that help people stop? A formal program that teaches people how to fail, how to wind up an idea, and how to learn from failure? Should there be a 'decelerator'?
To end this Ko Lab on a personal share, one of the bad habits I've observed about myself is that I'm addicted to information. When I wash the dishes, I put on a YouTube video. When I'm working out, I put on a show. When I'm driving the car, I put on a podcast.
What am I watching or listening to? 90% of the time, I couldn't tell you. It's just... noise. But it bothers me that this has become a habit. Even if the content is meant to be educational or productive, unless I've been actively taking notes, I usually don't retain what I've listened to.
I've chosen to call it an addiction (albeit mild) is because I think it is almost compulsive. The net result of this is a low-level hum of distraction that carries on into other areas of my work, meaning I'm overall less focused than I could be.
This addiction also bothers me because I think it's part of the broader societal challenge we face of information overload, of people being increasingly distracted and overwhelmed by information.
So what am I doing about it? I've been forcing myself to go for morning runs and leaving my headphones behind. It's just me, the pounding on the pavement, and my thoughts. After I get past the first kilometre of self-loathing (I hate running), I've found that my thoughts start to become clearer, my creative juices start to churn, and I've started to enjoy letting my mind organically wander. Heck it's how I've come up with the topics for this very newsletter.
Sidebar: Before you ask, I'll cover my thoughts on meditation in a future Ko Lab.
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Have a great week!