- Donna Khalife
A lot of founders fall into entrepreneurship almost by mistake. They start out as wide-eyed passionate humans wanting to solve a problem for other humans. Fun!
And before they know it, if all is going well, they're carrying the world on their shoulders. Suddenly, a "founder" becomes "CEO", responsible for the livelihoods of employees (!), answering to Boards and investors, delivering products to herds of demanding customers, and effectively shaping our future. You're often learning as you go, and generally trying to just keep it together.
This doesn't always bring out the best in founders.
I’ve studied business at the top academic institution in the world, Harvard. I’ve operated at the highest level of business at a bulge-bracket firm on Wall Street. I’ve advised leadership teams at the largest companies globally. I’ve launched ventures that have served thousands of customers and generated millions in sales. I’ve invented and brought to consumers over 100 products, and sold those products at major retailers, online DTC, and even on national television on Shark Tank and QVC. And I am a war refugee who grew up in poverty and worked hard to achieve a life that would give me the freedom to explore my mind and heart’s deepest questions.
I am still as fascinated by the power of business as was the young nervous college student who gave up an engineering scholarship to pursue a business degree against her immigrant parents’ wish. I have deep respect for the pioneers, trail-blazers, inventors, and experimenters who have gotten us this far.
I feel privileged to have seen business practiced at the highest levels by the leading companies of our time. I’ve seen what is working, what is not, and what remains possible.
Despite all this training, I was not prepared for the reality of being a founder.
We are not yet preparing our founders to be good leaders. And this is doing a disservice to humanity. It's imperative that we train founders to be humans first, and leaders second.
We have work to do.
It's with this in mind that I share with you the pledge that I made to myself after I sold my first company. This is the culmination of years of soul-searching, reading leadership books, studying great leaders (and not so great ones), meditating at silent retreats, amazing coaches, and a lot of self-reflection.
I don't have a PhD in psychology. I am not a professor at an ivy league university. I am not the CEO of a Fortune 100 company.
I feel a responsibility to share my personal experience as a founder to help other founders evolve.
The idea of The Founder Pledge is simple: Business systems move entire economies and shape our lives in ways the average human today can barely comprehend. Infusing love into these systems can change the human experience and the future of our planet. Encouraging founders to bring their humanity to work is the precursor.
There is a misconception in Silicon Valley that the greatest founders are unkind, overbearing, and always looking over their shoulder. These founders are often celebrated, reinforcing their abusive behaviors. The truth is that iconic entrepreneurs like Steve Jobs changed the world only after they evolved their practices. As Pixar's founder and President Ed Catmull put it: After Jobs was fired from Apple, he “wandered in the wilderness” for a decade. "In the course of working through and understanding these failures, and then succeeding at Pixar, Jobs changed; he became more empathetic, a better listener, a better leader, a better partner.” This is the heroic story we should be teaching.
I'd like to spare founders from having to wander into the desert for a decade to discover the truth about good leadership.
Take the pledge. Commit to building a company with purpose and love. Turn to this pledge over and over again in your moments of weakness, confusion, and frustration.
It will be good for your business. It will be good for your investors. It will be good for your employees and your customers. And most importantly, it will be good for you. Because without you, the whole operation falls apart.
May this pledge bring love and cosmic returns to all.
As a founder and innovator, I know that I have the power to shape the future. Today, I make a pledge.
To lead with and from love.
To believe in the possibilities, not the impossible.
To believe in the best of humanity, the good intention of those around me.
To give people a voice, an opinion.
To be inclusive of all individuals.
To allow the possibility that my way is not always the right way, nor the only way.
To empower those I lead to be the best versions of themselves.
To enable those I lead to grow, make mistakes, learn, and in turn lead.
To celebrate the victories on the journey, however small or big.
To feed my soul above anything else, knowing that I can only lead from a cup that’s full.
To be a vessel for what wants to be built and created, to let IT guide the creation, not my ego.
To encourage failures and mistakes, knowing that these are what make like fun (and funny :)
To bring my humanity to work and inspire everyone I encounter to do the same.
I pledge to not be scared, knowing nothing can hurt the Divine Force of Love that I AM.