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Mission-Centered Leadership

By Jeffrey Shields posted 26 days ago

  

CEO Notebook |

A leading entrepreneur values his company’s mission over growth and revenue generation. Are independent schools doing the same?

jeff shields
Jeffrey Shields, FASAE, CAE
NBOA President and CEO

Last week during the 2018 American Society of Association Executives annual meeting, I along with 6,000 colleagues spent the morning with Yancey Strickler, a true innovator and disruptor. (And yes, ASAE is "the association for people that work for associations.”)

You may not be familiar with Strickler. I wasn’t. But chances are you know what he helped create: Kickstarter, the world’s largest funding program for creative projects. One of three founders, Strickler challenged my thinking on leadership during these exciting, challenging and sometimes disorienting times. He also made me think twice about what we value and what we don’t, when we fixate on “financial maximization” over everything else in business, organizations and yes, even nonprofits and independent schools. As for our schools, we all know that if we don’t have money, we don’t have a mission. But does this imperative at times dilute or dismiss all other values?

We all know that if we don’t have money, we don’t have a mission. But does this imperative at times dilute or dismiss all other values?

Strickler put his money where his mouth was when he helped launch Kickstarter in 2009. Back then he was a struggling writer from rural Virginia, trying to make it in the Big Apple. He and two others became passionate about an open-source platform that could help creative types find the funding they needed to make their dreams a reality. Since its launch, Kickstarter has funded 150,000 projects and generated almost $4 billion from more than 15 million people.

In 2012, Strickler and his co-founders became concerned that their vibrant platform was becoming a marketing tool for already finished ideas, rather than a funder and incubator for new ones. That wasn’t Kickstarter’s mission, and Strickler pushed back hard. He wrote about several policy changes in an infamous blog post, “Kickstarter Is Not a Store,” which was met with a litany of responses from users whose language was not appropriate to repeat here.

Strickler was making two important points. First, he questioned if Kickstarter was simply growing for growth’s sake, and if generating revenue and financial maximization were all that mattered. Second, Strickler was defending what he believed to be the core of Kickstarter’s mission, to support creators and drive global innovation, not just market new products.

Kickstarter has banned the use of forced-arbitration clauses with users and refused to take advantage of tax loopholes, among other steps, to ensure that it will first and foremost operate true to its mission and for the common good.

Strickler took his defense of Kickstarter one step further when in 2015, it became a public benefit corporation (PBC). It is now “legally obligated to consider the impact of [company] decisions on society, not just shareholders,” as the company’s statement explains. As a PBC, Kickstarter has banned the use of forced-arbitration clauses with users and refused to take advantage of tax loopholes, among other steps, to ensure that it will first and foremost operate true to its mission and for the common good. That’s mission-centered leadership!

I know this may sound like heresy to an audience made up primarily of business officers. I assure you that I did not get too much sun this summer or that I’m suffering from heat stroke. But Strickler forced me to consider how I personally measure success with the NBOA Board of Directors and whether, as Strickler advised, we look beyond financial success to “values that are real, and put teeth behind them too.”

Strickler stood out to me as a leader who is ensuring his organization is living its mission, and consequently, doing the right thing. He is also fulfilling his original big dream, to be an author. His first book will be published by Viking Press later this year.

As we start a new school year, remember to focus on all that is valuable and important to your work and your school. Financial health is critical for so many of our schools, and always will be, but it should not displace or minimize the other values that make our schools unique, special and important to the students and families we serve every day. Here’s to a financially prosperous and value-filled school year.

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Follow NBOA President and CEO Jeff Shields @shieldsNBOA.
From Net Assets NOW, August 28, 2018. Read past issues of CEO Notebook.

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