This year’s graduates are entering the world just as our world is reentering historic times. The words I shared with High Point University’s class of 2022 echo the same lessons I hope to impart to aspiring social entrepreneurs overwhelmed by the task of driving impact in an age of disruption and uncertainty.
While periods of volatility can be paralyzing, they can also become a catalyst for us to step into our agency. After all, entrepreneurship is first and foremost a state of mind centered on taking ownership over our choices. The greatest entrepreneurs are often revealed through how they navigate adversity, and real success tends to be less about what you do and more about how you do it. How we act along our daily journey ultimately impacts society in much deeper ways than any of us ever acknowledge.
So as our youngest leaders embark upon your entrepreneurial journeys, here is my core piece of advice: through market forces, philanthropy or a social enterprise hybrid, you can play a pivotal role in shaping a better future for our world by leading with curiosity, courage and compassion – Three Cs to Excel Every Day in Life.
Modeling your actions, and building an enterprise, according to these principles may seem simple, but it is seriously hard work. Throughout your journey, the easy path will be to surround yourself with teammates, peers and investors who tell you what you want to hear rather than what you need to hear. Opt instead for curiosity. Think critically about every decision you make. Use information and data points not to simply affirm, but rather to inform, your beliefs.
Develop the courage to have uncomfortable conversations – the only kind that will help both you and your venture to grow. Have the courage to build a team with diverse perspectives and encourage team members to share those points of view, even if they disagree with each other. Hearty debate is one of the best tools we have for unearthing great ideas and spurring innovation, so long as we push back on one another with respect.
Through all you do, relate to others with compassion. Assume positive intent. Put yourself in other peoples’ shoes and be more forgiving. Apply the same approach when dealing with yourself. Be more forgiving of yourself when you face a setback (remember, everyone has setbacks). When things are going well, have the courage to be more introspective and self-critical. Arrogance can be the greatest enemy of your growth; so, believe in yourself but allow for some self-doubt to keep you grounded and learning.
At KIND, we were able to build one crazy idea into an incredible company because we strove to model these principles. By prizing hearty debate, treating everyone with dignity, working hard and thinking even harder, and no less important, developing a thick skin and having a sense of humor, we wound up building something magical.
If you think about it, what could have a greater impact on society than the way in which we relate to one another? We are ultimately a product of our daily interactions. We can be jerks throughout the day, or we can smile a bit more, listen a bit more, and care more. When you look back at who you will become 30 or 50 years from now, much will trace back to how you interact with others. How you act along that journey will become your destination as both a leader and a person.
You know why you should be enormously energized today? Because the stakes are so high – and you have the power to make a huge difference. It starts with every one of you and each small action you take. It’s the hardest kind of work there is, and it’s also the most rewarding.