How to Be a Successful Social Entrepreneur

Step 1: Get out of your own way.

Step 2: Repeat Step 1 (at least weekly).

The essence of entrepreneurship (and possibly life) is that you can have anything you want if you’re smart and you work for it. We’re at no shortage of smart or hard working people in the world so why are there so few successful entrepreneurs?

Answer (Part A): Most people are in their own way. We all do it. I do it. Constantly. At least once a week I have to get out of my own way. It’s human nature to get attached to expectations.

Answer (Part B): Most people stay in their own way. (Let’s for this instance ignore the societal factors that create inequality…there is always progress to be made in one’s personal journey and so this answer still has merit.) The key to success is learning to recognize the pattern and change behavior in a timely fashion.

In my work at Great Turning Advisors, I screen social entrepreneurs frequently. Most all of them are in their own way (if they weren’t they wouldn’t need us). My job as a portfolio manager is to know which teams I can work with. This means asking myself: 1)“Can I get them out of their own way…”; 2) “…with reasonable time and effort to not kill returns?”

How do I know I’m in my own way?

[Mindfulness time! OK. OK. I know it’s not everyone’s thing…even if it should be…]

The fastest reality check I perform (at least weekly) is whether or not things are working out. When things go smoothly, I call this flow. When things are backed up (stress sets in; I’m trying to force things; personal and professional relationships are tense) I know (with at least 90% certainty) that I’m in my own way. Even if I shirked my duties, didn’t finish client work, postponed a bunch of meetings, or anything else, there’s a reason.

No one said you have to be perfect to be successful. What’s important is that you appropriately handle your imperfections. If you aren’t comfortable with sales, then you better hire someone who is. If you only want to work 4 hours a week (shout out to Tim Ferriss), then you better have a business model that covers everything you’re not willing to do.

When something isn’t working for you in your business, then you are in your own way. Don’t panic. Don’t blame others. Don’t avoid. Figure it out.

Get better at recognizing when you’re in your own way. Get faster at it because it’s wasted time and dangerous to your success.

How can you get better at getting out of your own way?

Step 1: Build a team. Listen to them. By surrounding yourself with a team, you maximize your collective knowledge and ideas, have support, and are kept honest. Nobody has time to waste on you being in your own way — they’ll tell you as much if you’re willing to listen or leave if you’re not. In other words, they hold you accountable.

Step 2: Be open when the people you love speak. Their voices are the most loving and can be very honest if you ask them to be. So often we shy away from constructive feedback with those we love for fear of hurting them. In business and in life this is dangerous. Give your loved ones permission to criticize.

Obviously there is so much more to being successful. Social entrepreneurs need to be community leaders for the markets they create/discover. They have the responsibility to educate their markets, set a goal for them, and provide the mechanism for them to achieve it. Only by combining all these forces can human society truly get beyond the limiting practice of ownership and embrace a larger pie for everyone. That’s what successful social entrepreneurship looks like.