Leading With Values to Create Economic and Social Justice

Dr. Mark Albion spoke at HBS as part of a tour canvasing 50 business schools in the next month as a precursor to the annual Net Impact conference for MBA students.

Dr. Mark Albion, former HBS marketing professor and founder of six organizations, including three for-profit ventures and Net Impact, spoke September 25 to a group of HBS students and community members in an event sponsored by the Social Enterprise Club. Albion was at HBS as part of a speaking tour that will canvas 50 business schools in the next month as a precursor to the annual Net Impact conference for MBAs held at Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management in Evanston, IL, October 27-29. He delivered a presentation titled “Values Based Leadership,” during which he shared not only his views on this form of leadership, but also his career path, professional development and realizations along the way.

After graduating from HBS and teaching in the marketing department, Albion left HBS and became active with Social Venture Network (SVN). SVN was started in 1987 by people who, according to Albion, were interested in the idea of corporate social responsibility and were “donuts.” “They had the dough and they were a little bit nuts,” he quipped. What started as a group of 50 young people including those at places like Ben & Jerry’s, has grown to a much larger organization of people and businesses, the likes of which include Stonyfield Farms and Honest Tea-all committed to work around the idea and questions that fueled SVN’s inception in 1987, that “business should be used as a force for more social and economic justice.”

Albion argues that many more businesses than ever before are asking themselves the same question, and that the possibilities for potential MBAs to enter into companies which are committed to corporate social responsibility as well as economic and social justice, are better than ever. He cited the effects of globalization and two realizations by corporations as motivations for this change. First, a growing number of corporations are recognizing that employees who bring their values to work can and do add value – real competitive advantage – to companies. Second, corporations are changing their outlook from “for profit” to “not only for profit businesses.” He believes more companies are recognizing that if you “grow people, grow products, then you grow profits.” As such, hiring prospects are good; however, Albion cautioned the crowd that “if the light bulb hasn’t gone on at the company, it’s hard to start. If they are not values-based, it is hard to change,” and thus interested parties should look elsewhere.

Throughout his work with SVN, Albion and others became interested in what could be done at business schools to motivate students to become involved with causes of economic and social justice. From that interest, Albion created Net Impact, which is a network of student organizations at schools in 17 countries, operating under 40-50 models. Albion said the form and design of the group is not a concern during replication; rather, it is preferred that each group develop based on each school’s interest in social enterprise, and more recently around interests in social entrepreneurship and international development. HBS’ Social Enterprise Club is part of Harvard’s larger Net Impact chapter, which combines energies with KSG, HLS, and the College.

Albion said that SVN, Net Impact, and the individuals involved wanted to, “Use their life force/life energy to make the world a better place. We have a vision of the way we want the world to work.” He was clear that not everyone’s vision and passion are the same, and that every leader needs to ask him or herself three questions: 1) Which social challenge is important to you? 2) What needs to be done to create impact? 3) What role can you play? Albion said thinking about these questions is critical, and while it is easy to articulate the answers in a classroom, it is difficult to do in practice because “Leadership is lonely, and values-based leadership is even more lonely.”

He did, however, have advice for the crowd. “Create an argument for how your values add value to the company. Make your boss look good. Build a coalition. And you need a mentor on the politics of the company.” Ultimately, Albion said, values-based leaders need to be like monks, diplomats and architects. Be monk-like and communicate competence with respect and courtesy. Be diplomat-like and communicate compassion by collaborating outside of business and committing to service work. And lastly, be architect-like and communicate commitment by building something that lasts, changing the consciousness of companies, and creating social change. Albion suggests not losing sight of the question: “How do you measure success in your life? In your work-life?” After all, he has long asked himself, “How can I be a Marxist, but still own my own jacuzzi?” Ultimately, Albion says everyone needs to come to grips with money and the voices in their head, and make decisions that will allow them to “impact the people, the planet, and all living things.”

October 3, 2006
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