Want to Change the World? Be Resilient.
By John McKinley, HBR, February 26, 2013
What’s the difference between someone with a good idea and a person who can transform their ideas into real impact? To tackle the world’s biggest problems, we need to be able to identify and support the people who are capable of creating lasting change. At Acumen Fund, we spend a lot of time trying to find and train aspiring and established leaders from around the world who have the right mix of talent, ideas, and passion.
And what we’ve found time and again is: Resilience matters most.
Resilient leaders have three key characteristics:
1. Grit: Short-term focus on tasks at hand, a willingness to slog through broken systems with limited resources, and pragmatic problem-solving skills.
2. Courage: Action in the face of fear and embracing the unknown.
3. Commitment: Long-term optimism and focus on big-picture goals.
I see these qualities in the Global Fellows who are selected to work with Acumen’s investee companies across Africa and South Asia during a 12-month fellowship. These individuals bring exceptional skills and business expertise to their work. But that is not enough. It’s their ability to dig deep, roll up their sleeves and immerse themselves in the unglamorous trenches of seemingly intractable problems while remaining focused on long-term goals that allows them to buck the status quo and deliver meaningful change.
And resilience can be trained. At Acumen, we focus on building not only the fellows’ financial and operational skills, but also what we call “moral imagination”, which requires balancing opposing values—humility and audacity—to see the world as it is and to imagine the world for what it could be.
Too often we confuse management skills with leadership. We need to remain focused on building leaders who have the resilience to face stubborn problems head on for lasting social impact. The more we collectively define what it takes, the better we’ll be able to identify and train this next generation.