Like many others in the Rocky Mountain Region, I attended the annual Denver Startup Week last fall. I was fortunate enough to sit-in on one of the (always-engaging) sessions led by thought-leader and celebrated speaker, professor, entrepreneur and founder of MetroBoom, Jung Park. Jung is widely recognized for his bold messaging, clever presentation skills, and his exceptional engagement of the audience in his speeches. I have attended his events on numerous occasions…and have never left disappointed or without a critical piece of advice to apply to my own practice.
About half-way through his presentation at Startup Week, one of the questions Jung posed to the cutting-edge audience of entrepreneurs was, “How many of you are involved in community and philanthropic causes?”. The impressive volume of hands that had been raised in response to his previous questions about innovation and investment dropped like lead balloons…with only 2-3 hands (including mine) in an audience of more than 100 remaining in the air.
I have to admit, I was truly shocked at this admission by the collective group. And while I can’t speak for him, I got the impression Jung actually seemed to be surprised as well. The thought running through my mind was, “How could anyone in this audience seeking to be a business leader or to be considered an innovator in their field not recognize the value/importance of community contribution?”. The reality of that moment has been on my mind ever since, so much so even that after all these months, I am still inspired to write a post about what a sad reflection of tomorrow’s business leaders that was.
If you are on the path to being a leader of tomorrow and haven’t yet received the memo, let me share the headline with you: The single-minded business leader is dead. And of course, we don’t mean that literally; rather, in the sense that leaders who don’t understand the big picture of their role across various facets of the business environment aren’t going to last in today’s competitive frame. If you want to be a successful and exceptional entrepreneur for the long-term, you need to invest (either individually or via your organization) in overlapping economic, community, philanthropic and political realms. With all of the shifts in office and work environments dominating business trends and headlines…this is one fact that will never change.
Today’s economic environment demands nothing short of these wide-ranging capabilities. Regulation can be the death of a business or industry. Community connection and profile can be its savior. Advocacy for broad level economic advancement helps all industries (yes…including yours). And leading by example is a vital component of every corporate culture, regardless of size, specialization and sector. Cross-disciplinary involvement is critical to business success. Period.
I haven’t seen a large volume of discussion on this subject to date at organizations within the start-up community, but if I have anything to say about it, that will soon change. The groundbreaking organizations that are paving the road for the emerging business ecosystem know as well as I do that a true leader will focus as much on their local community profile and contribution as they do the pioneering products that they provide. At the end of the day, leading entrepreneurs recognize the pitfalls (i.e., death of the business) of being so caught up in the offering that they forget about the environment they want to sell it to.