CEO lesson: Learning to be the 'face' of his organization

If he had his way, Mark Edwards wouldn't show up in the news. Instead, he'd keep his focus on the tasks at hand. That's fine for folks who aren't CEOs, but it's different for leaders of organizations. And that was a lesson that Edwards, now chief executive of Philadelphia Works Inc., had to learn as he rose through the leadership ranks.

"I didn’t want it to be about me," Edwards told me during our Leadership Agenda interview published in Monday's Philadelphia Inquirer. But he had a media adviser who helped him understand his responsibilities.

Mark Edwards

"She told me, `Mark, you are the face of the organization. You are the one that people are betting on.' That just changed my paradigm.

"I have to say, that was the first role where I had to raise a lot of private money, and I had a lot of hang-ups about my ability to go into blue blood environments, old money and make a compelling ask and get the money. And I’ll tell you, thank God I was able to do it. She helped me understand that a person’s face and personality is the spokesperson for the organization and it is my responsibility to use that to convince [others]  that this organization is a good investment and is doing good work."

In a follow-up email, I asked Edwards if he thought his hang-ups were due to race (he is African-American) or maybe to growing up in a depressed neighborhood (Mantua). 

"It had nothing to do with race," he wrote back. "I was an unknown, not an insider. It was my first experience pitching to a small, private, audience by invitation only.  I was also pitching a new initiative and I felt the weight of the responsibility of convincing the group to invest in the improvement of quality of life for people in a city other than their own. At a time when there were/are so many worthy causes in need of investment, I wasn’t sure how interested they would be in my pitch."

So, I asked, how did you overcome the hang-ups?

"I relied on the credibility of my organization and its work," he replied. "I recalled the modest fund raising success I had up until that time.  Simply put, I sucked it up and made the pitch.  As the saying goes, you can’t always judge a book by its cover.  The group was personable and genuinely interested in improving the quality of life of others.  I remember thinking to myself that they would not waste their time if they were not willing to give the request full consideration."  

Click here for Mark Edwards' advice to jobseekers.