I recently had the chance to enjoy a lunch with Patrick Esquerre, the founder of La Madeleine Country French Café. Over a delightful meal of mussels and lamb at the impeccable Salum, we discussed Patrick’s career as an entrepreneur and philanthropist.
Patrick offered an interesting analysis of the three types of people involved in any successful venture:
- Steppers: The majority of the workforce, which is capable of doing exceptional work but requires strong management to help them see which steps to take next. Their backs are strong but their necks are bent to look at the ground in front of them, not the road ahead.
- Bridgers: Those who can see the opportunities ahead, but who tend to be head in the clouds. They are more focused on the future … without necessarily how to take the steps to get there.
- Bridger-Steppers: Those rare leaders who can both see the future as well as the steps that it takes to get there.
On the latter, he cited examples such as the brilliant military commander, Hannibal the Great, who not only envisioned a way to beat the Romans by leading his war elephants over the Alps, but had the capacity to motivate his armies to do so.
In the world of social enterprise and nonprofit management, we need more “bridger-steppers” who are capable of balancing the relentless pressure of today with the focus on improving the situation tomorrow.
This is no small feat. While our peers in the private sector can rely on executive leadership, we generally must rely on legislative leadership (as discussed eloquently by Jim Collins in his brief but wonderful volume, Good to Great for the Social Sectors). This is quite a challenge, particularly when most nonprofits are saddled with the burden of a constantly rotating volunteer governing board whose members are largely uninvolved in the organization’s daily operations (particularly fundraising). Worse, they are largely unaffected by their own poor performance compared to their peers on for-profit boards (whose incomes will be affected if their company under-performs).
Add to this the pressure of under-resourced staff teams and the chronic impoverishment of the philanthropic “annual recapitalization” financial model, and you can see why most leaders capable of being “bridger-leaders” either go into the corporate sector … or, increasingly, just start their own private venture. Entrepreneurship is a noble pursuit with its own immense challenges, but what our world needs is for more of these talents to be harnessed by the social sector. Only then will we see large-scale progress against poverty, illiteracy, disease and a faltering sense of genuine community among people at all levels of wealth.
Or, as Collins might say, we need the great to focus on the good.