Leading Change - Why transformation begins within. Interview with Darren Robson

If you meet Darren for the first time you wouldn't think that you are talking to an award-winning Leadership coach that helps to run one of the largest coaching professional bodies in the world. Nor that he is a serial social entrepreneur himself and has founded several business and charities. No, he is very humble; he listens with interest to what you have to say and engages with you in a deep conversation. I was very fortunate to spend an afternoon with him talking about entrepreneurship, leadership and personal transformation.

Ok, let´s start with the topic of social entrepreneurship. How do you define this term?

Basically it means that you have to build a business that's ethical and that's got real core values associated to it. It is about how do you combine your capitalist mindset on how to make money with your social mindset on how to provide meaning.

I like to call that “return on contribution” rather than “return on investment.”
Return on contribution is how do you contribute and at the same time make enough money to grow a sustainable organization.

Ok, that sounds like a great concept, but why should a leader of a company do it in today’s capitalistic driven business world?

Because the market will demand it. Increasingly customers, talent and employees want to see organizations that are making a meaningful contribution. I think whereas before corporate social responsibility was something that was ‘nice to have’, increasingly in our digital world it's crucial for your business.
What will happen is that consumers become more aware and more conscious and they'll start buying based on the ethical principles of companies. If you haven´t put any of these principles into practice, your customers will decide for a company that has – it´s that simple.
I don't think this is a short-term trend. This is a long-term trend and it will change the way we do business in the future.

Why are entrepreneurs so important for this change process?

For large organizations this transition is not easy because you need leaders that are really conscious and aware. But I see increasingly lots of entrepreneurs wanting to find this balance between making a sustainable business from a financial perspective, but also making a contribution. I think it's easier for them to do it than it is a large corporate because it takes time to change a culture and to convince all stakeholders. But entrepreneurs prove with their action that it is possible and they will lead the way into a new era of business.

Since you come from outsides the creative industries , I´m curious to hear your perspective on what you think the creative industry could do within this new paradigm?

The creative industry is locked into the same model. They are in survival mode as well and need to earn profit. It's difficult for, let´s say an agency, to convince their client to be really transparent, even if it is the right thing to do because these large organizations want to project a certain image.

What it will need is some brave brands that want to have a very honest conversation about the challenges they face and creatives who are able to help them engage in a meaningful dialogue with their customers to find solutions together.

But how will these big companies be able to change?

If we look at large organizations I think that there's a number of ways. There can be a groundswell from within the ranks of an organization or from its customers.
Equally I think that what you need is the most senior leader, so the CEO, the Chairman, the Executive Leadership Team to really wake up to this and to become aware of the world around them. They need to look at themselves as not just good corporate citizens but good global citizens.

When you start to think of yourself as a good global citizen, you start to realize that we have a responsibility to the planet. We have a responsibility to future generations. This changes the game and the prevailing mindset and culture of an organisation. It will become increasingly obvious that doing the right thing is good business through the financial returns and social equity it creates for great businesses and brands.

What motivates you personally to be one of these good global citizens?

If we consume like people do in America we need four planets to survive right now. That's going to create real issues for us as a human species. Let's be conscious of that. I'm able to think on a very big picture perspective but then I come right down to the practical earth and go, so what can I do?

I've got two children. One of the things that motivate me is that when they come to me and ask, "What did you do, dad?" I can turn around and say to them, "Well look, these are the things that I've done to try to make your lives and the world slightly better."

What needs to shift in the mindset of people to become aware of their own responsibly?

What we all need to understand is that we're one human tribe. Just because I don't know you, because I didn't grow up with you, doesn´t mean that we are not connected. Just because you live in India doesn't mean I shouldn't care about you on some level. We need to bring humanity back into our mindset.

What can coaching do to help people with that transformation?

It can help people to raise their consciousness and awareness. It is not about telling somebody, “This is the way to live your life” or “This is the way that you should be”, but you can give them the tools and skill-sets that they need to go on their own journey and discover the answers that are true to them.Coaching for me has been the best way to do that. That's why I contribute to that industry and also use it in my organisations.

You mentioned your charities – one of it is MOE foundation. It is dedicated to your mother and was set up to help young people from less privileged backgrounds. MOE stands for “Ministry of Entrepreneurship“, and since the start in 2012 you have already gifted out over 700,000 pounds worth of development to help them become entrepreneurs & better leaders. What drove you to start this social business?

When I was a kid my motivation was to get out of poverty. My sole purpose was to get out of this situation where I couldn't afford or have enough money for food or clothes or whatever. It wasn't abject poverty but it felt like poverty.
Back then I was desperate for support and mentorship and friendship and someone that could really help me. That wasn't there and I had to create it within myself.

I know that the only reason it changed was because I worked hard and I focused my energy to get myself out of that situation. My drive is to help people that are in that situation to get out of it too. And my way of helping other people is to use coaching to give them the ability to create a better future for themselves.

You have coached hundreds of entrepreneur: what would you say is the most important advice for somebody starting a business?

Dare to dream. At MOE we always talk about what's the dream...and then we focus on how to make it a reality. Don't let your fears, don't let your limitations, don't let other people stop you from trying it. Follow your intuition and do it, but think it through logically as well emotionally.

For more information: visit www.darrenrobson.com, www.moefoundation.com or watch his TED talk