Porter Novelli

Note: The following is a guest post from Bill Novelli, the first in a series based on his comments from a co-convening of Social Capital and Points of Light. Most of the attendees were corporate execs, with a smattering of nonprofit execs included. The event was a joint session with Social Capital and Points of Light that sought to understand how to approach partnerships and where to go from there. It took place in Alexandria, VA on Feb. 23. You can read the introduction to the post here, part one of the series here, part two here, part three here, part four here and part five here.

Leadership, always critically important, will become even more so

Bill NovelliNone of this will happen without leaders who are willing to engage, to work together for the common good and to see big picture opportunities at global, national, state and local levels.

We’ve always needed leadership, of course. Every organization benefits from strong leaders. Someone once said that leadership is the cause, and all else is effect. But as wide-ranging partnerships across sectors become more the norm, leadership will drive collective engagement and common cause.

This doesn’t mean that corporate leaders should abandon their own companies’ mission and goals; far from it. But it does require corporate leaders who can adapt the core strengths of their business to social and environmental opportunities to do well by doing good.

It’s a cliché, but vision is imperative to create large-scale social change while at the same time keeping each organization’s own goals intact. From a corporate perspective, it calls for a commitment to operate successfully at the intersection of financial, social and environmental value. And it requires a willingness to enter cross-sector partnerships and the public arena.

Corporate leaders of this stripe have a deep appreciation of social issues and needs, and the ability to see across and manage business and social value.

And clearly, we need government leaders in partnerships for good. Government and quasi-government can help catalyze, finance and support broad change. For example, the White House, with the support of USDA, Treasury and other agencies, is planning a conference on impact investing in which Georgetown expects to play a role. This government leadership encourages all sectors to be involved.

As for nonprofit leaders, they have these collective visions in their DNA. It’s how they must operate. Leslie Crutchfield, who co-authored Forces for Good: the Six Practices of High-Impact Nonprofits, found that leaders in this sector must move beyond thinking just about their organizations to thinking about the entire movement.

But it’s in the private sector that collective leadership can make new things happen. And let’s be clear; while we need corporate leaders in the C-suites, one can also lead from anywhere in the organization.

Colin Powell asked this question: “Have you ever noticed that people will personally commit to certain individuals who, on paper or on the organization chart, have little authority, but instead possess…drive, expertise and genuine caring for teammates?” He’s right, and that’s leadership. It’s not necessarily about seniority, position in a hierarchy, or titles.

So, in conclusion, the world is changing rapidly, and managing social change is far better than having it manage us. The opportunity to create business value though creating social value is a powerful force for companies today. Increasingly, it will require the commitment and skills of participating in cross-sector collectives for good.

And as this progresses, many of these partnerships: will get bigger and more complex; corporate employees will be even more essential participants; we’ll get better at socially positive behavior change; public policy will be an even bigger strategy in the overall mix; attacks and criticisms will accompany these initiatives and be directed at all sectors; and leadership – as important as it is today –will be even more so tomorrow.

The bottom line of all this is a comment by the management guru, Peter Drucker, who simply said, “It’s about changing people’s lives.”

Thanks very much.