Is This What It Takes to Lead a Social Mission?

What does it mean to lead a company’s social mission?  Social mission is how I describe all of the elements that contribute to a business being socially and financially effective. It’s more than CSR because it’s ingrained into the organization’s business model in the best cases, and leaves a shine on all company functions and decisions.

That’s the goal, but what does the job look like?  Beyond being strategic, passionate and resourceful, what’s expected of you, the social missionary?  I’ve been looking at different job titles and responsibilities lately to better understand how companies view social responsibility and what skills and characteristics are sought after across industries.  Boston College Center for Corporate Citizenship lists nine responsibilities of the social missionary (whom they call a corporate citizenship leader):

  1. Become the company’s expert on social issues, and the changing expectations of external stakeholders
  2. Build strong relationships with key external stakeholders (community groups, NGOs, policy makers, media, etc.)
  3. Identify risks and opportunities for the business based on stakeholder expectations and designing proactive mitigation and response strategies
  4. Design and implementing the company’s social mission strategy
  5. Build consensus among senior leadership across the company to adopt new social responsibility policies and programs
  6. Build trusting internal relationships and becoming the central point of contact and resident expert on decisions regarding social and environmental issues and impact on company stakeholders
  7. Embed socially responsible practices into all operations across organizational boundaries
  8. Measure and communicating social mission initiatives and activities related to the company’s goals and performance
  9. Scale social programs nationally and (often) globally

They’ve identified the challenges of helping a company develop or expand its social mission as:

  1. Limited resources and a small support staff
  2. Convincing leadership of the business value of adopting social mission strategies and practice
  3. Lack of direct authority over other business leaders and managers who must be influenced
  4. Managing tensions inherent in the iterative process of integrating citizenship practice into an existing operating model (involves overcoming internal resistance and resolving turf battles)
  5. Staying tuned into the broad spectrum of information and issues relating to corporate citizenship/social mission
  6. Identifying appropriate metrics and obtaining measures from multiple individuals and departments in the organization to measure the business and societal impact of program initiatives
  7. Finding ways to communicate your social mission honestly and effectively both inside and outside the company
  8. Finding win-win solutions that will benefit the business financially as well as meet social needs
  9. Understanding stakeholder expectations and managing relationships
  10. Adapting to regional and cultural differences

Right, so lots to do and lots of obstacles to weave around while seeing your vision through. In addition to the qualities I see as critical (strategic thinking, passion for the mission and resourcefulness), the study identifies eight leadership competencies of effective social missionaries:

Personal Maturity: An ability to achieve satisfaction by empowering others rather than through personal recognition.

Optimistic Commitment: She draws on optimism and strong personal belief in the potential of a socially driven businesses to overcome social and business challenges.

Peripheral Vision: An interest in the world and social and business issues that enables one to see new opportunities and risks.

Visionary Thinking: He thinks strategically and creatively, connecting the dots to find new ways to enhance the social mission.

Systems Perspective: She uses an understanding of how elements of a system relate and interact to frame risks and opportunities.

Collaborative Networker: He uses empathy and interpersonal understanding to build mutually beneficial relationships and connect and engage diverse groups of people.

Change Driver: She combines vision with the persistence and drive to mobilize people around a higher purpose.

Strategic Influence: He leverages organizational awareness to influence others to commit to the company’s social mission.

What do you think?  I’m midway between thinking these are jargon-y qualities that won’t even survive the commute, to thinking there’s some truth in these surveyed commonalities.  I know what Ben Franklin would do. He’d systematically practice one principle every day until it became natural behavior.  Then he’d add another, and practice them together until he was a near-effortless embodiment of all eight competencies.  And I’m pretty sure I know what Seth Godin would do too.  He’d shred the list and encourage fresh and independent thinking.  I fall somewhere in between instinct and independence and studied success.  What about you? Do you find these types of studies and lists helpful or suffocating?

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