Social Entrepreneurship – Moving From Visionary to CEO Leader


The Eye of a Visionary Social Entrepreneur

Leadership is the key to bringing a vision into reality. But how can social entrepreneurs and conscious business owners overcome their resistance to it?

Earlier this week I had the honour of being asked to speak to a group of entrepreneurs on an online broadcast, where I was interviewed by my friend and long-time client Allison Maslan. Allison asked me many questions about what makes a successful entrepreneur. One of the things that came to mind was self-knowledge. The more we know about ourselves, the more we can succeed at whatever we set out to achieve.

While at first this might sound overly simple or even a bit ‘woo-woo’, the process of unfolding our self-knowledge as entrepreneurs–especially social entrepreneurs–is actually extremely deep, very practical and utterly essential.

Perhaps the most important element of self-knowledge for entrepreneurs is to understand their role as leader or CEO within their own enterprise. If you don’t know this, you are likely to end up leading from the wrong place, or maybe not really ‘leading’ at all. Back when I was in the second year of my book marketing consultancy practice for example, I woke up one morning and realised I had become my own worst boss. While I had chosen the path of entrepreneurship to set me free from being driven by other people’s directives and value systems, I somehow found myself feeling as trodden upon as when I was working as a college director. I had become both slave-master and slave.

Around that time, I read the iconic book The E-Myth Revisited by Michael Gerber (a must-read for any entrepreneur) and I quickly recognised myself. I was just like the lady in the book who started the chain of pie shops and ended up driving herself into the ground by baking all the pies herself. The book is all about creating systems in your business, so you can ascend to the role of CEO instead of sitting on the bottom rung as what Gerber calls ‘the technician’. The technician is the person who knows how to ‘do’ the main thing that the business offers the public. Most new CEOs come from a technician background. If they open a pie company, it’s because they know how to bake pies. If they open a web design company, it’s because they know how to make websites. If they open up a musical instrument shop, it’s probably because they are musicians. And in the case of social entrepreneurs, if they start a social enterprise, it is because they have the passion and vision of creating positive social change.

The trouble is, while the technician is a vital part of any company, it’s not where the CEO should be. Furthermore, none of these ‘technician’ hats actually qualifies us to be an entrepreneur.

Stepping Away from the Technician’s Role

But for a true business to take root and grow, the entrepreneur needs to step away from the role of technician and into the role of CEO–the entrepreneurial leader. Of course, this is easier said than done. When an entrepreneur strongly identifies with their ‘technician’ role, they can struggle with many issues:

  • They may find it painful to let go and delegate tasks to others.
  • They may experience confusion and identity issues as their role changes.
  • They may struggle with trust issues.
  • They may want to micro-manage.
  • They may get overwhelmed by financial issues and fail to hold onto the bigger picture.
  • They may get overwhelmed by systems issues, and end up trying to solve them all themselves.
  • They may find themselves in a continual state of ‘fire-fighting’ because no one is really leading the system.
  • They may even go through a period of mourning (and all the emotions that arise from it), because their original vision looks different from how they had imagined.

When someone starts a business because they are passionate about something–whether it’s pies or changing the world–it takes time to make the mental shift towards holding the container for the business itself, as well as the practical shift to creating the right systems and building the right team to make their vision a reality.

And for the social entrepreneur, whose business is by its very nature ‘visionary’, these shifts can be particularly challenging.

Making the Mental Shift into Your Role as CEO Leader

If you are a social entrepreneur (or anyone who considers yourself a ‘conscious business owner), you surely have an open heart and a natural inclination towards service. You are probably very idealistic, too. While these are tremendously valuable human qualities, they can sometimes cloud your way as you grow your business.

For example, the 7 Graces Project CIC was created to offer training, mentorship and support in ethical marketing. While that might sound very simple, it also holds a much greater vision. We aim to help rectify the negative state of the business sector at large. We aim to help abate political and social stresses that are caused by competition and notions of scarcity. We aim to support the independent ‘entrepreneur’ in whatever capacity, because we feel there is a general lack of education and support for them around the world. And lastly, we aim to help shift the economy and the environment back to health, by educating both consumers and business owners about economic balance.

That’s a lot of ‘vision’. But how do we make it happen? I can’t do it only by writing lots of blogs or books and talking with people on social media. While all of that is necessary, it does little to bring the vision down from the clouds to solid earth. To actualise this vision, it was first necessary for me to make the mental shift from being the blogger/writer/networker and taking ownership for the movement I seem to have started. I had to change my relationship with my vision. No longer is it ‘my idea’ or even my intellectual property, but rather it is now my responsibility. Taking responsibility for the birth, growth and sustenance of your vision is what being the CEO leader of your social enterprise is all about. Otherwise, you’re just a dreamer.

Many social entrepreneurs and other ‘heart-centred’ business owners mentally resist the idea of thinking of themselves as a CEO or leader. I’ve even seen people recoil with repugnance at the mere mention of the word ‘leader’. They fear that being the leader will make them the ‘boss’ or dictator. They fear it will break the purity of their vision and turn it into something cold and lifeless. But what they fear most, although they would rarely admit it, is that people won’t like them or believe in them anymore and that others will see them as a hypocrite for turning their vision into a viable business.

And that is probably the biggest mental block that prevents many service-oriented entrepreneurs from creating successful and sustainable businesses.

Making the Practical Shift into Your Role as CEO Leader

Dreams always look pretty when they’re way up in the clouds. And while dreams have a lot of buzz and make us tingle all over, just like the clouds, they can evaporate unless some force of nature brings them down to earth as rain.

Bringing your social entrepreneurship dreams down to earth is really down to two things:

  • Creating the right systems
  • Creating the right team

Your systems include things like your mission, your aims and objectives, your products and services, your communications and delivery methods, your marketing strategies, your customer service and, of course, your financial planning. It also includes a picture of how all of these will evolve over the next few years. Unless you have brought your vision down to this level, my guess is that you’re not yet sitting in the CEO’s chair. In fact, you’re probably still spending a lot of time playing the role of the technician, and fire-fighting a ‘to do’ list that seems to have no end.

Systems require systems people to create, organise and manage them. This brings us to the next element: creating the right team. If you are not naturally a systems person (and, frankly, most visionaries are NOT), you need to find someone who is. That person (or persons) must be able to step into your vision and work with you to create a way for it to become a system. Of course, you need other kinds of people too:

  • People to manage the systems you create
  • People to go out and spread the word
  • People to help sell and negotiate deals
  • People to come up with new ideas
  • People to communicate with your audience and to offer support
  • People to be the actual technicians behind the scenes

You need people. And as your enterprise grows, you’ll need lots and lots of people.

And if you’re afraid that having all those people will mean that you’ve lost ‘control’ over your vision…well…that’s because you haven’t yet made the mental shift to being the CEO leader of–and the person responsible for–your enterprise.

Closing thoughts

I believe in entrepreneurship. Even more, I believe in social entrepreneurship. But most of all, I believe that today’s emerging movement of independent conscious entrepreneurs can change the world. I believe they can help stabilise the economy and bring social justice to all people. I believe they can stop environmental damage and raise awareness about healthy lifestyles. I believe they can bring back TRUST within the business sector. I believe they can help heal humanity and planet by changing the way we do business.

But all of that is dependent upon one thing: it is dependent upon YOU stepping into the role of the CEO leader. Change will not happen within our dreams. It will happen through our leadership.

I hope this article has inspired you to step more deeply into that role today. In my next article, I’ll be looking at the different styles of leadership, and how knowing our personal style can help us work more effectively and ‘in flow’ within our enterprise.

As always, I welcome your comments and feedback. Let the dialogue continue.

Lynn Serafinn
September 2013

P.S.: We at the 7 Graces Project recently delivered the pilot course of ‘Foundations of Ethical Marketing’, which is specifically designed for independent service-oriented entrepreneurs of all kinds. We are currently reviewing the pilot, and aim to launch this highly interactive 20-week course to the public in January 2014. Whether you are a sole proprietor who is just starting out or someone with an established brand, I do believe you will find this course to be truly impactful. We’ll be telling our readers more about this course later in the year. So if you want to stay informed, be sure to subscribe to this blog either via email (see the sign up form at the top of this page) or on Kindle.

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Find out more about how changing the paradigm can help make the world a better place:
The 7 Graces of Marketing BOOK COVER

The 7 Graces of Marketing: how to heal humanity and the planet by changing the way we sell, by Lynn Serafinn, where you can learn how the 7 Deadly Sins and the 7 Graces impact the world through media and marketing.

Brit Writers Awards Finalist
eLit Book Awards Silver Medal in Humanitarian & Ecological Social Issues

Tweep-e-licious: 158 Twitter Tips & Strategies for Writers, Social Entrepreneurs & Changemakers Who Want to Market Their Business Ethically, by Lynn Serafinn, which can help you learn how to create meaningful collaborations through Twitter and other social media.

eLit Book Awards Bronze Medal in Business and Sales

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Lynn Serafinn author of The 7 Graces of Marketing

LYNN SERAFINN, MAED, CPCC is a certified, award-winning coach, teacher, marketer, social media expert, radio host, speaker and author of the number one bestseller The 7 Graces of Marketing — How to Heal Humanity and the Planet by Changing the Way We Sell and Tweep-e-licious! 158 Twitter Tips & Strategies for Writers, Social Entrepreneurs & Changemakers Who Want to Market their Business Ethically. She is listed in the Top 20 of the Top Marketing Authors on Twitter by Social Media Magazine and was a finalist for the prestigious Brit Writers Awards. She also received the eLit Book Awards Silver Medal in Humanitarian and Ecological Social Affairs, as well as the Bronze Medal in Business and Sales.

Lynn’s eclectic approach to marketing incorporates her vast professional experience in the music industry and the educational sector along with more than two decades of study and practice of the spirituality of India. Her innovative marketing campaigns have produced a long list of bestselling non-fiction authors through her company Spirit Authors. Lynn is also the Founder of the 7 Graces Project CIC, a not-for-profit social enterprise created to train, support, mentor and inspire independent business owners to market their business ethically, serve society and planet, and restore all that is best about humanity.

(not just for Londoners, as we meet also on Skype)

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