Those who are looking for a meaning in their actions and are keen on working on their own, positive impact on society and our world, will find an unbelievably pragmatic and authentic role model in Perrine Schober, foundress and CEO of Shades Tours. In our Leadership Impact Talk Perrine talks about the influence of new generations on the purpose of organizations, the responsibility in each one of us, her approach to pity and drawing lines as well as her very personal style of leadership.
About the interview partner
Perrine Schober is social entrepreneur and CEO of SHADES TOURS, a company that has set itself the taks of sociopolitical education and bringing light to the dark sides of society such as poverty and homelessness, flight and shelter, drugs and addictions. SHADES TOURS already won the Social Business Award “Ideas against poverty 2015” in its founding year 2015 and was nominated for the “Social Impact Start Award” of the Viennese Impact Hub. The tours that are organized by the company in Vienna are award-winning and more than 30.000 people joined them in the past 3,5 years. And now she gives us answers to questions about meaning and responsibility in leadership, leadership impact and her very personal mission.
You are social entrepreneur: What does that mean?
Basically, a social business is a business that, in contrast to traditional businesses that mainly focus on their finances, in addition to financial monitoring also has an eye on its impact and measures and monitors it. This additional monitoring shows that a social business is a hybrid business. On the one hand there is a company that has to be profitable to survive on the market, on the other hand we pay attention to what impact we want to have, how we want to achieve it, if we can keep on working as we do and where we can improve ourselves.
But shouldn’t every business try to have a sustainable positive impact, for instance in social areas?
In my opinion, every business that has employees is already acting in a social way. Don’t forget: it’s a big challenge to have an idea, to establish a company, hire staff, pay social insurance fees and so on. That also creates an economical impact.
But I definitely think this is an interesting question and believe that together with the upcoming generation Z there will come a new drive into organizations that will push them to spend more thoughts on their impact and value-added chain. I really look forward to this future trend and change. Especially because the single employee also gets the chance to push the company and due to the new generations slowly growing into leaders that will carry this thought on. I think this is a very interesting approach and a very exciting time we live in right now.
From a business to the individual: What responsibility does every one of us carry?
In what kind of society do we want to live in and how should it look like? This question triggered something in me and led me to the finding that society starts with oneself and that everybody has the chance to do something. Everybody has skills and knowledge, a network that she or he can use. And that is why I believe that society starts with oneself. I also firmly believe that especially those new generations are eager to be part of this change and that social entrepreneurship felt a boost because of this.
Everyone can contribute his/her part. And it doesn’t always have to be something big. You also don’t have to be an entrepreneur or CEO to take responsibility and to help shape the society. There are behaviors that can be easily adapted. For example: Vegetarians that decide to not eat meat anymore because of animal protection reasons. If only one does not consume meat anymore, the results will be barely measurable. But the more people become vegetarian, the less animals will be kept for consummation, the less animal cruelty exits. Every single person can have a big impact in the whole picture.
What behaviors do you promote in daily cooperation?
At this point I have to mention that I would have never thought of becoming an entrepreneur and having staff. That means, that I am not coached and well-read on this topic or have tactical and strategic knowledge on the topic of leading employees. Even if I alone have established this company, we are only strong together. I wouldn’t be here without the guides (Note: the people concerned that conduct the tours through the city) and they wouldn’t be here without me, which means there is a co-dependency.
We have a very familiar atmosphere. The guides that come to us usually come from very precarious life and housing situations, are maybe depressed or even suffer from existential fear. I think the most important thing they get from me is appreciation but without making them feel pitied or like they were supplicants. They know: Shades Tours is a company, it’s work and it’s professional. Away from their life situation they can grow into a new role. And I think that’s what gives them back their hope, self-esteem and brings luck in their lives again.
That means you focus on building your employees?
Exactly. On the one hand it’s of course about building them up financially, on the other hand it’s also about giving them a personal boost and stabilizing their living conditions.
So from your perspective, is your task to help everyone back to stable living conditions?
Generally, yes. BUT: my task also ends at a certain point. Though they all come from hard living conditions, no one has ever bid pity from me. They value the job opportunity and that I know their situation. That means that I can be much more sensitive and understanding, give them the time they need and that’s also what they value. But they are also fond of the fact that me and my colleague, who is social worker, regularly sit down with them and as them: “Okay, where are you now, where do you want to go? What stands in your way, how can we resolve these obstacles? What do we further have to work on?” If they work at SHADES TOURS, they do not only work at the tours, but they also work at themselves and we help them do so.
Is it hard for you to distance yourself?
No, I think at some point you get used to it. But I also think that the guides know how much I can do and what lies in my area of responsibility. It’s crucial that they don’t forget that they themselves are responsible for their live. Meaning, that I am not responsible for their live, but that I am with them to be an aid that they can and should use. But they definitely know that they are the ones who must fight and that I can’t do that for them.
Speaking about pity: How meaningful or productive is this expression, this feeling?
I think I have a quite pragmatic approach ;-). During my life I have seen severe poverty, just not in Vienna. It’s definitely different if you are in a country that is really engraved by poverty, like India for example. There you recognize that you don’t even know where to start helping. But here in Vienna I sensed a chance to help.
SHADES TOURS offers people concerned an option and they can take it or not. I don’t feel sorry but rather feel motivated to help people out of their difficult situation. Because that’s what these situations are made for: To be solved. Additionally, it is crucial that the people concerned bring this positive way of thinking with them and say ”Okay – I’ll try it!” and then get going, although it would of course be easier to just give up. And it is definitely hard to fight. Now imagine there was a boss who dragged you down with his/her pitifulness. Due to this, it’s crucial that the superior thinks positively and shows a feasible way because then they come by themselves and say “Okay, if he/she thinks it’s possible, then I can do it!”
You need power for fighting: How can leaders focus on strengths of people rather than concentrating on weaknesses and mistakes in our tough business world?
As an entrepreneur or CEO you usually want your employees to enjoy their work or at least be easy for them to do. Furthermore, you don’t want to have the wrong person in the wrong position because that costs a lot of time and hence money. Consequently, it is logical that employees take those tasks that are a piece of cake for them, that are interesting and, in the end, also makes them happy. For this to happen you have to pay attention to what is easy for whom and then assign them to the according tasks and take time for the onboarding until no mistakes happen anymore. If an employee makes a mistake my first reaction is to get angry but immediately on a second thought I think of how this mistake could happen and if maybe I just didn’t communicate properly what I expected or the training wasn’t enough. Most of the time it’s not only on person’s fault.
And what are your own strengths?
For me it’s very easy to get in touch with people. Networking is easier for me than for some of my colleagues. Still, it’s much easier for me to list my weaknesses than my strengths. In order to become conscious of my strengths, I imagine certain people and ask myself what’s easier for me than for this distinct person. And if there’s someone who can balance my weaknesses and the other way around. For instance, we have an employee who is very detailed and therefore, every time before a document is published, she checks for typos. Other employees don’t need to be heroes when it comes to spelling and grammar because we have one person in our team who is and that is totally fine, everyone has their strengths somewhere else. Just be conscious that there are areas where other’s are better and that that is absolutely okay.
What do you want to use your strengths for? What do you want to have achieved if you look back on your life in many years?
It would be amazing if at the end of my life I could say “I spent the main time of my life with work that I really enjoyed doing”. A work that I enjoyed spending my time, power and knowledge in from my whole heart. In my opinion, this is also the reason why so many people suffer identity crisis: They are looking for a job that combines well with their values and expectations.
What are your recommendations for all the people looking for a meaning out there?
In my opinion it is important to think of areas you would like to work in and tasks you would like to do. These tasks can hence be linked with the offers on the job market and existing companies.
Or in case you already are working in a company you are fond of and plan on staying, you can think of fitting changes and present them to your superior. Most CEOs probably are happy to receive inputs from their employees and who knows, maybe this input creates a new position internally? I think, communication is key here.
How will SHADES TOURS develop?
Right now we developed a new Austrian city and brought SHADES TOURS to Graz. Our goal is to make the brand stronger, develop more new destinations and generate even more impact. It would be great if we were able to implement Graz well until the end of next year and start another Austrian city. In case our concept works well on a national level, it could be also rolled out on an international level to maybe even a Social Franchise System.
Thank you very much, dear Perrine, and I wish you a lot of success for you and SHADES TOURS!