The awards ceremony ended with one of the non-profit heads sharing that she overheard a young man, who was previously homeless, talking on the phone. This young man had been on the streets for a long time and now found a new housing solution through the non-profit. She heard the young man proudly say: “I am leaving home now and will meet you there …”. A statement he could not have made a few months earlier. The impact of providing a home to someone so they can provide impact to their community has a cascading effect of possibility for the individual, their loved ones and the broader community.
The world is changing fast. No one knows where we are headed, and the old ways of doing things aren’t good enough. We need the skills and principles of a new kind of leadership. Each one of us needs to become an exploratory leader.
Exploratory Leadership is the art of motivating people, including yourself, to effectively travel into the unknown with clarity and confidence to discover more possibility.
For many years, I have had the honor of working with students at the University of St. Thomas in a life changing experience called the Damus Board. The Damus Board is the brainchild of a generous, purpose-driven individual and talented professors at St. Thomas. Each year, busy business students volunteer to be members of the Damus Board. They do not receive typical academic credit for the experience. They do it because they care about this world and want to help make it a better place for all.
Tom Wiese, Studio/E Co-Founder + Guide with the 2023 Damus Board
The Damus Board experience works as follows: A generous doner (a couple) donates a substantial sum for the Damus Board to donate to worthy non-profits based on a mutually agreed upon theme for the year. The students, then, are charged with finding non-profits, interviewing them, and doing site visits with the ultimate outcome of selecting the special few aligned with the theme of the year to receive making a generous donation. The experience culminates in an inspiring awards ceremony at the end of the semester. It is a valuable experience that teaches the Board Members, and all who are involved, many things, but three principles seem to emerge year after year. These principles are primary truths that, if practiced consistently, help create a better future for us all, personally and professionally. Below are the principles we have learned through this experience.
1. Be aligned with your purpose.
One of the first things the Damus Board Members do is identify their purpose and share it with each other. They unlock their purpose in a single sentence and use it as a guide for the entire experience. One of the many outcomes of being aligned with purpose is that it creates pathways to make meaningful and thoughtful decisions. By using their purpose as a guide, the Board Members have energy, resilience and a filter to navigate, not only the experience at hand, but the other areas of their life as well.
They also identify how their purposes overlap with one another, and the theme for the year. The Board Members’ purpose is their magnetic north that gives them direction, and the ability to make hard decisions and navigate obstacles, resulting in transformational growth. They are forever changed.
2. The pathway to having impact is helping others have impact.
You create positive impact in this world by making others impactful and providing access. These Board Members visit 30 plus nonprofits and learn about the impact these organizations are having in the community and choose the few organizations to receive donations. This is an extremely hard decision. The Damus Board sees and learns that impact comes from helping others have impact and access, a principle I was not entirely aware of until decades after my college experience. Emerging leaders have a tendency to self-focus so much that their impact is stifled. These Board Members will successfully navigate a life of impact from this point on.
3. Navigating this world is a team sport because one person cannot see enough.
The Damus Board experience teaches team collaboration. Collaboration, more than competition, is necessary to solve the massive challenges in this world. Each Board Member makes recommendations of the donation recipients and there are intense negotiations to choose the finalists. But it is recognized that every member has an important perspective to incorporate into the decision making. To solve complex problems you typically must compromise. If you don’t comprise, nothing is solved. The great things you will do in your life will be done with the help and support of others and compromises will need to be made.
Exploratory leaders, like the Damus Board Members, excel in moving forward in the face of uncertainty. They navigate through volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous conditions (referred to as VUCA) while generating a new kind of clarity and inspiring motivation and confidence. They shape their environment as they explore the unknown, discovering value for themselves and teammates by launching and navigating according to a new set of principles.
If exploratory leadership is a new concept for you, we encourage you to embrace these principles, and a great place to start is with identifying your purpose. You’re certain to see great possibility and opportunities for deeper community impact emerge. Afterall, the best future is the one we create, not the one that happens to us.
Questions to Explore:
1. What is your purpose, and are you aligned with it?
2. Where do you provide impact and access to others?
3. When do you compromise for the greater good?