In March, 20 alumni of the American Express Leadership Academy network met up in Austin, Texas, and turned the annual South by Southwest creative gathering into a leadership development and network-building opportunity. Here is the first post in this series.
Sustaining leadership networks is difficult. It’s easy enough to bring people together for events, but building meaningful relationships among people can be tough. Everyone has busy schedules, competing priorities, and different places to be.
Yet for those of us working in the nonprofit and social purpose sector, networks of support are critical. We often work in challenging conditions, with limited resources to do work that impacts people’s lives—and even more limited time for reflection, adaptation and growth.
That’s why it is meaningful that our “#amexleads” alumni group manages to cut through the noise at events like South by Southwest (SXSW) and mobilize coalitions of diverse leaders around critical issues.
This year, a group of about 20 leaders, including myself, traveled to the famous festival of ideas and creativity in Austin, Texas. We set aside a morning together to share our challenges, reflect on our progress, and generate new ideas for positive change.
As I reflect on our time together at SXSW, three key leadership themes were reaffirmed for me during the discussions:
1. Leadership is a collective endeavor.
While leaders may be asked to step forward or make decisions as individuals, leadership is always a joint effort to find shared solutions to challenges. Whether it is coaching an NFL team, working with the Board of a non-profit organization or growing a venture capital fund, our #amexleads group seems to find value in support and feedback from others at every step. This is ever more true as globalization and political issues contexts change rapidly, and old rules seem increasingly outdated.
2. Authenticity is critical.
It sounds obvious, but it is amazing how easy it is for some leaders to be out of touch with the communities they hope to serve, or to question the consequences (intentional or unintended) of their work. If you’re values-driven from the start, seek out long-term engagement in the places it matters, and build trust over time through the small actions as much as the big, you will be an authentic leader. These efforts create the “leadership fabric” that supports real change.
3. Leaders build ecosystems.
Leadership within the social entrepreneurship space is as much an effort to build and support the growth of ecosystems as it is to build any one individual organization. Finding areas of synergy, creating opportunities for others, and jointly working to protect the space in which we operate is critical. By lifting up and supporting our peers, we can create much greater impact than we can on our own. #Amexleads includes some incredible leaders and connectors who understand that, and that is why they’re successful changemakers
SXSW has grown so big and overwhelming that at any given time there are probably a hundred speakers, events or activities happening. This makes coming together as a small group for several hours of dedicated conversation all the more important. This intentionality helps to build critical bonds. I’ve already connected with two members of the group back in the real world about concrete ideas, and we’reaiming to celebrate those collaborations next year at what we’re now calling #SXAmEx!
This blog is one of a four-part series of reflections from the #amexleads leadership meetup at this year's South by Southwest festival. We will update this post with each week's new blog.
Part 1: Building Leadership Ecosystems that Thrive by Blair Glencorse
Part 2: How I Didn't Meet Barry Jenkins - My Experience at SXSW by Kim Gube
Part 3: The “Reach Out” versus Networking: A Conversation with Molly Beck of Messy Bun by Julie Smith
Part 4: What's a Conservation Nerd Doing at #SXSW? by Mary Burke