Pro bono as an opportunity to develop entrepreneurial leadership capabilities
Pro bono service provides a unique, and often overlooked, opportunity to strengthen the entrepreneurial leadership capability of an organization’s emerging talent. It can readily complement traditional leadership development approaches, stimulate mindfulness, and promote authentic human understanding.
In this blog, I identify three key entrepreneurial skillsets—empathy, innovation, and curiosity—and highlight how pro bono service can lead to growth in all three areas.
Empathy is an emblematic trait of entrepreneurial leadership. To navigate an increasingly volatile and complex ecosystem, entrepreneurial leaders must have a broad, nuanced worldview coupled with an intimate appreciation of the human condition. They must also be proactive, focused, flexible, and resilient while mastering the dynamics of their business or ecosystem.
These leaders are, or often become, deeply curious about how they can positively impact the world they touch. Thus, true empathy promotes a leadership stance that drives positive action and generates successful outcomes.
Gaining empathy that yields insights to deliver value also mimics the entrepreneurial mindset required to enable innovation. Although the profile, goals, scale, and resources of a typical NGO will be radically different from a large corporation, this alternate structure can be liberating to the learner and provoke opportunities to initiate innovation.
Leadership in a large company or an entrepreneurial venture necessitates generating and exploiting innovation. Today’s obsession with innovation is essential to growth, survival, or competitive relevance. It is an inarguable priority, even in the most staid industries and the dominant success criteria at leading edge firms.
Recently a group of pharmaceutical executives gained invaluable insight into their emerging market supply chain risks and then developed remedies during a prolonged pro bono assignment. Curiosity helped these corporate leaders shift their perspective from being smart, energetic volunteers to becoming empathetic, impactful change agents. They brought those leadership traits back to their corporate jobs where their pro bono learning experience expanded internal networks and supported their career advancement.
Innovation begins with curiosity.
Persistent personal curiosity drives the quest for knowledge within individual domains, interdisciplinary exploits, or within complex systems. First-rate organizations demonstrably encourage individual curiosity, develop those skills, and even create a culture where it is expected and honored.
If we accept the assertion that curiosity is essential to innovation and that great leaders drive innovation, why would curiosity matter in the context of pro bono service and as a mechanism for leadership development?
Despite the obvious advantages it offers, an absence of innovation is often rooted in the dearth of curiosity. That happens because in many organizations, recognized expertise, graceless expedience, and abundant inertia remain dominant counterbalances. Breaking those dynamics demands energetic leadership along with the agile mindset that pro bono work entails.
Consider how genuine curiosity engenders empathy and how empathy alters our understanding of people. It provokes us to appreciate their aspirations, challenges, needs, and motivations. That insight drives product and service innovation essential for attractive marketplace solutions. Habitual curiosity instigates creativity, reflection, experimentation, and courageous decision-making, all hallmarks of strong leaders.
Pro bono is a response to genuine empathy
Successful pro bono contributions are a response to genuine empathy and often entail novel approaches to delivering value because of structural or resource constraints. From a leadership development perspective, similar practices can readily carry over to an individual’s role within their firm. Pro bono service offers the opportunity to develop these skills in a meaningful context, absent the constraints, fears, or inhibitions that may be perceived within the leader’s organizational role.
It may be obvious to seasoned practitioners that an empathetic orientation to a pro bono assignment is invaluable. My research shows that while personal motivations to contribute vary, the desire to ‘give back’ seems to be consistent. However generous this motivation, it is often mistakenly rooted in sympathy towards the ‘plight’ of the receivers of pro bono contributions. True empathy reframes the context, form, and understanding of the need and fosters pragmatic solutions that are calculated for impact and sustainability. That practice is an essential leadership skill.
Sustainable gains for everyone
Many pro bono endeavors seek to provide benefits to the recipient, the individual contributor, and the sponsoring organization. There are many paths forward to support these goals. One opportunity to consider for the pro bono aspirant is to pursue that service as an essential leadership development plan. This plan offers high value to leaders at any stage of their career maturity.
Organizations that sponsor pro bono service can gain far greater benefits from this learning experience than they currently do. However, to gain those benefits they must design a learning strategy that can deliver long-term value to relevant stakeholders. They may also need to shift their perspective to capitalize on the pro bono experience within the company. While not always simple, that path offers greater leverage and sustainable gains for everyone.
If you want to strengthen the entrepreneurial leadership capability of your organization’s emerging talent, get in contact with us today!
About Michael Serino
Michael Serino is the Founder of Intelliprise Resources LLC. As a learning strategist, executive coach, and educator, Michael works closely with executives and teams committed to developing their individual leadership strengths and enhancing organizational capabilities. He has extensive executive development, knowledge strategy, entrepreneurship, innovation, collaboration effectiveness and organizational change experience. firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright Michael Serino 2017