This is the last in a series of posts on the challenges surrounding social entrepreneurship.
I have learned in my life as a business professor that just as being a good manager is not the same thing as being a good leader, being a media star is far different from being a good leader or manager. We live in an era where the media-friendly entrepreneur/founder must act on stage, under the spotlight. Many of the foundations supporting social entrepreneurs encourage what the French call mediatisation, supposedly under the theory that media attention draws resources to the enterprise. It also draws attention to the foundation or private investor who funds the star leader.
All of this comes at a cost. I wonder how many tragic failures we have created as a result of our preference for sparkling leaders, rather than ones who know their business and who know how to work on a team. I am absolutely for charismatic leadership, but I am wary of the prima donnas that we tend to create.
I would like to see fewer media leaders and more good team leaders in control of social enterprises. And I would encourage investors to put aside their egos in promoting excessive media attention. It is quite possible that when we have managed to develop better social capital markets, there will be less dependence on the egos of private investors who tend to bet on media figures.
It is a tragedy when an organization’s leader must leave his business and retire, or seek another role in the project. I can think of a social enterprise in Portugal that has done great things in its work with troubled youth. After 30 years of success, the company has slowed and the founder is in danger of seeing a total reversal of the gains it has made. The problem is that too much weight was attributed to the founder and not enough effort was spent creating a team around her that had real capacity or power. Not surprisingly, the leader has become too accustomed to the media spotlight to depart.
An equally painful case is the argument between two founders of an exciting enterprise engaged in funding new ventures in deprived urban communities in a European country.
One leader managed to attract far more media attention, and the chairman of the board threw his support to him for this reason. But was he the better leader or manager? This question appears to have been almost beside the point. As a consequence and despite ample talents, the other founder was forced to leave the enterprise he helped build.
A good entrepreneurial leader is not a substitute for good management, and an organization is more than just the leader. Success also requires team leadership and capable management. To build a successful social enterprise, we must make sure that teams lead the enterprise. And watch out for media-struck leaders.
The above is drawn from remarks made at “Leadership for the 21st Century,” an interactive training session held at the U.S. Ambassador’s Residence in Paris on October 23, 2008 to launch the Ariane de Rothschild Fellows Program: Dialogue & Social Entrepreneurship. The program aims to develop a network of social entrepreneurs with an interest in fostering a culture of mutual respect and dialogue among Jewish and Muslim communities.