I recently came across a recent post on Social Velocity, The Long View of Change, that got me contemplating whether indeed there is something unique about the character traits held by the social entrepreneur – the founder or initiator of the social enterprise, and whether these traits are distinct from those of other employees working for the social enterprise. Social Velocity points to the work of Jon Katzenbach who was thinking about this exact issue over a decade ago, and he wrote about it in his 1995 book entitled Real Change Leaders. According to Katzenbach, Real Change Leaders are not necessarily the CEOs or top echelon of a company, but rather they are the mid-level employees who are drivers of remarkable, but often unrecognized, change within companies.
Although the individuals to which Katzenback refers are not the founders or initiators, his research discovered that these people still indeed hold a set of common character traits. In fact, he found seven: Commitment, courage, initiative, motivation, low profile, caring, and a good sense of humor. So while employees may not be ‘leading social entrepreneurs’, in Ashoka-speak, they can very well hold characteristics that set them apart in society as change leaders or changemakers or intrapreneurs, or however you’d like to refer to them.
So then does it really matter whether we make a distinction between entrepreneur and these other highly motivated agents of change? I’d argue yes – I believe the former has the extra special something needed to see their idea through to the end; certainly they will not rest until they have solved the problem they’ve identified. This resolution is what makes him or her stand apart from the rest and arguably, is the quality that truly drives radical and lasting change in society.
However, I would challenge anyone that believes that a set of unique character traits is all one needs in order to initiate change or spearhead a new idea, no matter where one might fall on the entrepreneurial spectrum. I very much believe life circumstance, culture and access to role models each play a huge part in determining personal agency. This is why Ashoka and many Ashoka Fellows have launched initiatives (like Ashoka’s Youth Venture) that aim to increase the probability that a young person will have the freedom and support to be entrepreneurial throughout his or her life.
So while a workplace can certainly encourage among its employees the seven common traits found by Katzenbach, it is not enough to begin here - in the office. That we can teach children at a young age to be agents of change is a pretty powerful concept! For a start, we should be encouraging Katzenbach’s traits among our children and youth with the anticipation that, even if they aren’t our future leading social entrepreneurs, they could very well be given the opportunity to be drivers of social change in any future positions they hold. We should also look beyond the seven traits and identify other qualities or experiences that will give birth to our next generation of changemakers. To begin, check out how educators are incorporating peace bulding into early elementary school curriculum here and here.