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1) What do you do now, and what did you do before?
I am executive director of Dalai Lama Fellows, a three year old global education and social change initiative. Our mission is the radical transformation of the world’s social structures and institutions through the forging of a new cadre of authentic leaders. We have named our first thirty Fellows from a dozen partner universities in Egypt, Ghana, India and North America, including Minnesota, NYU, Oberlin, Princeton, Spelman, and Stanford. We engage Fellows in a distinctive “Head, Heart and Hands” curriculum that combines contemplation and innovation, while supporting and guiding each of them in a mentored year-long social-change project of their own design and helping them to integrate that field experience into their home campus. Currently in development is a robust alumni initiative that will meld all of the Fellows into a lifelong contemplative social-action community that models a new ethical and values-based approach to leadership. We are just now beginning to select the 2013 Dalai Lama Fellows.
I have been in the social sector most of my career since starting at the Woodrow Wilson Foundation in 1969, two years after graduating from college. I came to California, however, as director of public affairs for Levi Strauss & Co (in 1983).
2) So, why the change?
I have tried the corporate sector twice and find myself more personally aligned with the agenda, goals, population and culture of the social sector (for which I prefer the term citizen sector, though all of the available nomenclature is flawed, which seems to me one of the subtle reasons that its potential influence remains unrealized). I was alone or nearly alone in my Harvard Business School Class of 1975 when I chose to work for a citizen sector organization (the Aspen Institute), rather than in finance, consulting or manufacturing. That uniqueness would no longer be the case.
3) How did you pitch yourself to the desired industry/role? What worked well? In hindsight, what would you have done differently?
What pitching I’ve done has mostly been the two times I switched to corporate (the other was after Aspen, to ARCO, where I was responsible for corporate executive development in the HR Department). Most of my “pitching” in the citizen sector has been the co-creation of an opportunity in which I believed and to which I could commit myself. In forty-three years of worklife, I have been extraordinarily fortunate in never having had a position in which I had a predecessor.
What I would have done differently is to have been more instinctive and less calculating. The anthropologist Mary Catherine Bateson coined the phrase “Peripheral visioning” to describe what we see out of the corner of our eyes. She suggests and I concur that those glimpses are often what we should pursue, rather than what seems to be right in front of us, but which often occludes what is behind it. Succinctly, stay open.
4) What was the most valuable thing you did in preparation for the new industry/role?
Remaining a generalist and looking for intersections rather than niches.
5) What other advice or insight do you have for readers seeking the same career transition?
Learn as much about yourself as you can and then look for or, better yet if possible, create a position that offers you maximum congruence. For years, I’ve recommended a little exercise in “What Color Is Your Parachute.” You describe yourself with ten nouns, drawn from the full range of your life and interests (work, relationships, family, avocations). Then you ascribe ten attributes to each heading, what you do in that role and why it matters to you. Last, you look for cross-currents among those hundred descriptors. What emerges is a fairly comprehensive picture.
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