Get good board members and get laid – then save the world

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Like a good spring, a good social entrepreneur must be resilient enough to absorb the shocks of business. You can’t be an effective leader if you’re knackered, warns Liam Black

Dear Jude

Resilience. The USA’s Department of Homeland Security has a great definition: The ability to resist, absorb or recover from or successfully adapt to adversity or a change in conditions.

The abilities to bounce back after repeated reversals and to thrive in the midst of never ending complexity and ambiguity are vital for anyone wanting to change the world – or even a little bit of it.

Some of the social entrepreneurs I mentor are really struggling (I accept there may be a link there!). Two, after much anguish, have shut their businesses and are trying to deal with powerful feelings of guilt and personal failure. Another is just about coping with the demands of a rapidly growing social enterprise and a young family – and enjoying neither like he should be. One is finding it hard to deal with the pain and anger she is exposed to every day in the damaged young people she works with. 

I read much Pollyannaish drivel clogging up social media about social entrepreneurship and there have been too many glib resolutions and predictions about the coming year. You don’t have to be Mystic Meg to see that the future for social enterprise is going to be very tough in the UK. For any social enterprises close to the public sector – and many are – times will be hard indeed as money dries up and poverty deepens.

In an age of austerity you Jude as social entrepreneur must invest in the development of your resilience. Don’t wait until the shit hits the fan to buy an umbrella! Continue building the networks of support which you can rely on in tough times. And don’t confuse survival with resilience – it is about so much more than simply hanging in there and coping.

So, how to develop resilience? Some people seem to have an innate ability to roll with the blows and bounce back with a full tank. I wasn’t like that in my early days. I was very chippy and every battle lost felt like the end of the world; I often got through on willpower, running on empty, tired, not seeing the proverbial wood for the trees and, inevitably, making bad decisions.

Partly by simply getting older and understanding that things take time and rarely go all the way you want, partly learning from my mentors, partly though the love of a great woman, I have developed more resilience and perspective, on my abilities, shortcomings and blind spots.

Get the basics right. Good governance in your enterprise is critically important. A well chosen, well organised board, which values transparency and acts as critical friend, will really help when times get tough.

Uncouple your sense of self-worth from the work you do. If you believe a bad business decision means you’re a bad or failed person that way lies madness or the bottle – or both.

When I start a mentoring relationship my first piece of advice is usually “Book a holiday and get laid”.  It is very common for people to believe they are so indispensable and their work so important that the world will stop turning if they take a week in Greece. Believe me it won’t.

How effective do you think you’ll be working seven days a week flat out for a year? Not very!  People who are jaded, knackered, running on empty, are not very productive and are rubbish role models for the people they lead.

So, make your commitment this year to look after yourself Jude and your relationships. It’s good for business. And you’ll get more sex.

Peace, love and profit.

Liam x

PS And of course make sure you get a copy of my Social Entrepreneur’s A to Z, out later this year. Pre-order your copy below.

Anxiety, taking risks and getting enough sleep: The Social Entrepreneur's A to Z, presented by Liam Black, will be published later this year. Email us with your contact information and the subject line "Liam's Book Please" at, and we will let you know when copies are available.

Liam Black is co-founder of Wavelength. Contact him via or via Twitter