Mission-Driven Leaders Mean Business

Fred Kofman speaks to an audience in Jerusalem.

“What is your job?,” Fred Kofman asked an audience of 90 leaders from the worlds of business and social impact gathered at the Scot’s Guesthouse in Jerusalem, overlooking the sweeping Valley of Ben Hinnom on the first cool evening in September.

“I’m a CEO and founder.”

“I’m the Director of Sales.”

“I work in an education non-profit,” the crowd answered assuredly one by one.

I stood among this impressive group and thought, “Easy. I’m the Director of Impact at PICO.”

“Wrong!” Fred responded having caught us all in his carefully laid trap. “Those are your titles. But what is your job?”

As Google’s Vice President of Leadership Development and a published author, Fred Kofman visited Israel with the goal of sharing the unique insights he accrued between his PhD in Economics from UC Berkley, teaching career at MIT, and his role as advisor to Silicon Valley’s most renowned leaders including Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg and LinkedIn’s Reid Hoffman.

On this particular evening in Jerusalem, PICO Venture Partners and the Schusterman Foundation’s ROI Community co-hosted an event in which Fred spoke before a carefully selected group of young professionals on infusing leadership with mission. Fred’s introductory message rang clear: “Your job is not your job.”

If I’ve sufficiently confused you, then you’re not alone. I watched as the audience stared back at Fred, somewhat unsure of where they went wrong in answering this relatively simple question. He went on to explain. “Your job is not your job. Your job is to help your organization win. Your job is to achieve the mission of your organization.”

Fred illustrated his point through soccer. If we consider the sole job of the goalie to be blocking the opposing team from scoring, then the sole measure of the goalie’s success is a low number on the scoreboard. In this scenario, the goalie or any other defensive player will never risk joining the offensive attack in the final seconds of a tied game. That is why, as Fred explained, defending the goal is not the job of the goalie. The job of the goalie, like every other player on the team, is to achieve the mission: to win the game.

Young leaders from across Israel joined PICO Venture Partners and the Schusterman Foundation’s ROI Community for an event on mission-driven leadership.

It sounds nice, sure. Leaders should lead with a sense of mission. They should espouse and even embody a defined set of values. In fact, there are massive organizational implications for this lesson. Companies of all sizes are routinely tasked with understanding how to best motivate their employees. Traditional performance measures and material incentives often create a contradiction between the goals of the individual team member and the organization at large, as illustrated in Fred’s example. Meaning, integrity, and a sense of community are far more likely to align a team.

At PICO, this is exactly what we believe good entrepreneurial leadership looks like. Communicating and clarifying the mission of your organization, from startup to multinational corporation, is essential to helping the members of your team understand the true nature of their jobs. The mission is also a part of your organization’s story, and articulating that story is what ultimately attracts customers and helps you continue to refine your product. Money makes for good business, but meaning makes it better.

You may have felt this at some point in your own career. I certainly have. When I first started working at PICO, I was “fresh off the El Al flight” still settling into my new life as an olah chadasha in my new home. I had just finished my graduate degree in public policy at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, where the school’s slogan “Ask what you can do” –  both a homage to the inauguration address of the school’s namesake, President John F. Kennedy, and an expression of the student body’s mission to serve – beckoned me to make my next career move a meaningful one.

Since starting at PICO nearly one year ago, I have found a sincere sense of mission and a deep rooted set of values. If for a moment you have forgotten who we are, allow me to remind you. PICO Venture Partners is a venture capital firm. We invest in early stage startups with an intent goal of achieving revenue generating growth, and consequently achieving strong returns for our investors. We’re in the business of doing business. And yet, we are an organization rich in values, a group of individuals working towards a common mission.

We host prominent thought leaders like Fred Kofman because creating a culture of learning and growth is a part of our DNA. We believe that by encouraging leadership we can contribute to building thriving companies. Thriving companies beget thriving communities, and in this way we can leave the world a little better off than we found it. We are constantly working to integrate these values both vertically and horizontally throughout our own organization, and looking for opportunities to engage our surrounding community in the realization of these values.

At PICO, we are more likely to invest in entrepreneurs who are able to articulate their sense of mission because we believe that mission-driven leaders are more likely to succeed. Keep this in mind when you pitch us your company! Mission-driven entrepreneurs build better teams, who build better products, and tell better stories. They are more resilient, more motivated to overcome the trials and tribulations of building a company.

The team from Tastewise, a data analytics and insights platform for restaurants, food brands, and hospitality.

Fred’s message seemed particularly relevant that evening as we peered out onto the Old City of Jerusalem. In a city layered with thousands of years of history, meaning and purpose are in no short supply. Perhaps this is why so many of Israel’s great leaders have roots in Jerusalem, and why Jerusalemites are such significant contributors to the economic output of Startup Nation. But we’ll save that topic for another day.

The PICO team was honored to learn from Fred, and to facilitate this unique opportunity for him to share his message with Israel’s rising stars. I too learned a lesson in what it is I really do at work. So what is my job, you may ask? My job is to help PICO support extraordinary entrepreneurs acting as agents of change, to create lasting impact locally and around the world. My job is to help PICO Venture Partners win.

If you’re interested in diving further into this topic, I suggest you pick up a copy of Fred Kofman’s latest book, The Meaning Revolution: The Power of Transcendent Leadership.

Image result for the meaning revolution

About the Author
Sasha Belenky is the Director of Impact for PICO Venture Partners. She has spent her career developing, launching, and scaling programs for social impact. She has been a fellow with Social Finance Israel, the Boston Mayor’s Office of New Urban Mechanics, and a member of the Schusterman Foundation's ROI Community. She completed her graduate degree at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, where she focused on cross-sector solutions to issues related to education, health, and economic development.
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