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GILD 2013: Business lessons from a community visionary

October 10, 2013

Bill Strickland is a little different from the other GILD faculty members. He’s not focused on creating shareholder value or on coaching executives. He spends his professional life building partnerships to help the disadvantaged build a better future. On second thought, maybe he’s not that different. But his focus is on creating community value and coaching tomorrow’s leaders.

Bill is a master storyteller, and his “Creating the Vision” presentation consisted of photographs of his education centers and the disadvantaged children and adults they help, accompanied by a narration that captivated the audience.

It’s utterly clear that Bill has a deep passion for what he does. But his passion is backed by results and he leverages that combination to raise significant funds from even the most hardened of potential backers. (He told one story of an executive who he described as “eating nails for breakfast.”) That kind of passion isn’t limited to the nonprofit sector. Think Steve Jobs.

A blog post simply can’t do his story justice. (You can read the basic facts here, or you can buy his book.) Instead, here are some notable quotes that illustrate why his vision and its execution are so powerful, as well as some questions to help us think about how we can apply his wisdom to the business world.

“I believe with all my heart and soul that people are born as assets, not liabilities. It’s all in how you treat them.”

Bill’s centers bring in people whom society considers to be liabilities. He gives them skills through a broad range of disciplines–from art to medical coding–and turns them into assets within 12 months. How do you treat the employees in your organization? Are they assets to be leveraged or liabilities to be controlled? And are they living up (or down) to that view?

Bill Strickland returned to GILD13 to share his important mission with participants.

Bill modeled his first school on Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater and filled it with beautiful art and furniture. Despite being located in a high-crime-rate area, there has never been a case of violence or theft within the school. What kind of environment do you provide your employees? How does it shape them?

“The only thing wrong with poor people is that they don’t have any money, and that’s a curable condition.”

Bill’s centers are free of judgment, which frees everyone to focus on helping the students change their circumstances. What “curable condition” do your low-performing employees have? Do you judge them or are you doing something about it?

“These used to be welfare mothers. You know what they’re called now? Pharmaceutical technicians.”

Bill doesn’t see what people are; he sees what they can be. And then he helps them make it happen. That’s how you develop people. Do you see the potential in the employees in your organization? What are you doing to help them reach that potential?

“If you want people to work at a world-class level, you need to bring the world to them so they know what it looks like.”

Bill understands that if you want people to know what’s possible, they need to know what’s out there. So he makes it a point to show them. If they are going to learn how to be a gourmet chef, then he needs to bring in gourmet chefs to teach them. What do you expect your employees to deliver? Are you bringing the world to them so they can create world-class work?

Are you inspired by Bill’s vision? What else can we learn from the nonprofit sector to make our organizations better?

Dark haired woman watches from audience of conference event

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