As many if not most of you know, I will be transitioning in the coming months to lead the Ballmer Group, the philanthropic initiative of Connie and Steve Ballmer. I wanted to share the latest Freakonomics podcast, which features Steve as a way to introduce you to why this opportunity was so compelling. In this engaging and insightful piece, Steve references the work of StriveTogether and the Cradle to Career Network during the discussion.
There are three things that really stand out for me in this interview that are core to how the Ballmers approach their work in the philanthropic sector — and their work in general. First, Steve notes the challenge of measuring impact in the social sector versus what is so clear in the private sector (the bottom line) or sports (win or lose). He gets this. Connie gets this. And they are with us on the journey to figure out how to navigate the complexity to better understand not only individual contributions to desired educational outcomes, but the contributions of all those working across sectors to achieve a specific outcome or result.
Second, Steve models complete and utter transparency. He shared deeply personal stories about his journey to becoming one of the most iconic business leaders of one of the most iconic companies. He does not shy away from how there were struggles and what he learned along the way. This is fully consistent and supportive of the ethic you have all adopted and owned within the network. We have called it “failing forward” as a way to capture the ethic we believe is so critical to improving outcomes at scale. This involves eschewing the dog-and-pony show and embracing a sort of radical transparency that is needed to change everyday behavior and thereby achieve better results at scale.
Finally, Steve models being all in on the mission. One hundred percent. He notes how he held on to his shares in Microsoft, even when people questioned this financial move, because he needed to model believing in the work of the company and the people in it. The members of the Cradle to Career Network have modeled a similar dedication. Despite naysayers who question this work from so many different angles and perspectives, each of you stays personally and professionally invested. As Ben Hecht of Living Cities often says, there is no Plan B. This is the best shot we have at working through the inevitable barriers to success. And your deep commitment makes all the difference.
It is this last point that made the transition so hard. I know how much you have invested. Please know that even in this new role, I will remain equally committed to your work and long-term success as a Board member and investor. And having two leaders like Connie and Steve Ballmer — who share this same depth of commitment by modeling it in all they do — will make it that much easier to show.