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Tony Silard: Integrity is the Most Important Quality in Social Entrepreneurship

tony_silardTony Silard is the President of The Center for Social Leadership (Washington), an organization that provides marginalized people with leadership lessons. In the interview below, he talks about the qualities a leader should have, but also about the challenges leaders should be able to face.

You are the President of The Center for Social Leadership, an organization that provides education about leadership skills, but also training to marginalized parts of the society. How did you start to explore the connection between leadership and social responsibility?


Before I became a leadership coach for Fortune 500 companies and small businesses, I was the President and Executive Director of an international NGO for 8 years called Global Education Partnership with a mission of increasing the employability and self-reliance of low-income youth. I raised over $15 million and managed a staff of 40 for this organization. We started doing capacity-building/leadership workshops for rural school leaders in developing countries, and also integrating leadership skills into our youth curriculum. I realized the vast potential and magnifier effect of leadership then. This is why I still make it a priority to do leadership conferences for NGOs and disadvantaged youth – they can grow their organizations and improve their lives through the development of leadership skills. I am very passionate about this, about providing leadership training to those who most need it, who are most disadvantaged in our society.

What would be the steps that a leader should take to overcome his natural fears and to determine the people around him to do the same?


We have to face our fears. We never fully overcome them, so we have to learn to live with them like an old friend who you do not always love to see but always is there in some form or another. Fear is like small barking dogs – face them, and they will flee. Run from them, and they will chase you for the rest of your days.


What are the challenges of a leader in the current economical times?

To learn specific skills that will enable her or him to not only survive, but to thrive in a down economy. A challenging economy offers many opportunities for those willing to get out of their box and do things differently. That’s what I teach in my leadership conferences with the Post-Privatization Foundation.

You mention that communication is not leaned by theory, but by practice. What are the steps of becoming aware of what an efficient communication means by practicing it?


The most important premise for effective communication is that it works only when each person can successfully identify and describe the unmet needs of the other. It’s only when each person can agree with their counterpart in the conversation and say, “Yes, you have understood how I’m feeling and what I need” that both people can start brainstorming for a mutually beneficial solution. The problem is that most of us, particularly we men, have a natural tendency to shove our emotions under the run and skip the first critical step and rush on to problem-solving. That doesn’t work, because the unmet needs remain unmet.

What advice would you give to social Entrepreneurs who want to start a business in Romania?


A reporter once asked me after a conference I did with the Post-Privatization Foundation in Cluj, “What are the three most important words that a leader must know?” I quickly replied: “There aren’t three words. There’s only one: integrity. You can make mistakes – we all do. You can refuse to listen for awhile – we all do that too at times. You can even lack empathy on some level – Steve Jobs has publicly humiliated Apple’s employees at times yet they stick around because they believe in his vision for the company. You can lack passion and be relatively uninspiring, like Bill Gates, which especially works when you are able to develop products that outperform the competition on the level that Microsoft Office has. You can be inflexible from time to time too – think of a sports coach who pushes his players way too hard but earns their respect. But if you lose their trust, you’re done. People won’t feel safe with you anymore, and they won’t remain committed to your cause.”

So my advice is to be honest, genuine and authentic. In other words, be yourself – toward the purpose you have for your business. Your purpose also must extend beyond yourself. Self-interest doesn’t motivate. A selfless motivation does. If you have that motivation, you will inspire others to help you build your business.


Interview by Rebeca Pop, Forum for International Communications
Copyright PR Romania

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