Devin: Shaun, what is your superpower?
Shaun: My superpower? I think about two things; a key one is listening. It’s just so important to listen well. It’s something that doesn't happen enough in the world. So who are my customers? Who are my stakeholders? What are their needs? What are their aspirations? How do I reconcile those needs and aspirations of my stakeholders— stakeholders being farmers, community leaders, investors, industry? So listening really well, I think with an empathetic ear, I think that would be one, “secret sauce.”
I think the other thing that helps me do what I do is being able to bridge an inspiring vision and turn it into an executable plan. I work in an environment where some people love to dream and brainstorm. A lot of other people—that makes them nervous and uncomfortable. Many people need clarity and certainty. So I'm a great bridge builder between envisioning the world of possibilities and building a bridge into what's actionable and doable—so bridging vision to action.
You can watch the full interview with Shaun here: shaun.s4g.biz.
Shaun Paul, CEO of Ejido Verde, is doing high-impact work on two fronts at once. By helping small-holder farmers in Michoacan, Mexico, to replant pine forests to harvest pine resin, he’s leading an effort that serves both to save the planet and help people. Collectively, those farmers could see their businesses increase in value by over a billion dollars. The scale of environmental impact experts will measure should run parallel.
For about 90 years, people in this area of Mexico have harvested and sold pine resin. Though relatively unknown, the global market for it is at least $10 billion annually. Sadly, over three decades beginning in the 1980s, deforestation became a problem, and production has dwindled. Because those who cut the trees stole them, the community suffered even more acutely than the environment. Farmers lost assets and income.
Under Shaun’s leadership, Ejido Verde has fostered a restoration of old business models layered with modern support. The company provides financing to the farmers to help them plant new trees and survive until the trees start producing resin after about ten years.
Ejido Verde helps the farmers design their farms for intercropping, including free-range animal grazing, which will provide the farmers with additional income.
Farmers are now cultivating 4,200 hectares of pine forest, about 70 percent of the area of Manhattan. Shaun’s goal is to reach 12,000 hectares or about the equivalent of two Manhattans.
The contracts with farmers require them to keep the trees in production until 20 years after planting. At that point, the farmers’ obligations to Ejido Verde are complete. Farmers then have the option to continue harvesting pine resin or harvest the trees. Shaun is encouraging farmers to keep the pine resin business going as a means of continuing to sequester more carbon.
Shaun’s work is changing the world at a stunning scale and serving the needs of both the community and the planet.
How to Develop Listening and Bridging Vision to Action as Superpowers
Shaun’s paired superpowers are different on the surface, but as I explored them with him, I began to see the harmony between them. Listening and bridging vision to action are two separate—but I think you’ll agree—related skills.
You can watch our second interview focused on his superpowers here: shaun2.s4g.biz.
In the last chapter, you learned powerful insights about listening. In this chapter, you will read suggestions that may overlap a bit but come directly from Shaun’s experience.
He introduced this topic with a quick anecdote about his Latina wife. It took a decade of marriage to learn that when he asked her if she was hungry and she responded, “a little,” she meant a lot. Listening is a skill he continues to develop.
Let’s dive into the topic of listening. Here are the three essential principles that guide Shaun to be an effective listener.
1. Empathy. To listen with empathy means that you assign no blame. You leave your ego out of the conversation entirely. No judgment is allowed. To hear what others are saying, you must put aside the filters and noisemakers in your head. Listening is about focusing on the other person.
2. Ask questions. One guidepost is to ask a lot of questions. Shaun sees that people aren’t always eager to share their concerns, but you need to hear them. He encourages everyone to ask clarifying questions. Don’t fall into the temptation to be argumentative. Finally, focus on the elephant in the room. Too often, people talk around the big issues rather than about them. Go there.
3. Find perspective. To get the view you need, talk to lots of people. Hear many voices. Don’t let the conversation with one or two color your understanding of an entire population.
By applying these lessons, you can undoubtedly become a better listener. Imagine what you can accomplish if listening becomes your superpower.
Shaun’s second superpower is bridging vision to action. He notes that he often deals with people, including some of the investors in Ejido Verde, who see the big picture and the mission. At the same time, he deals with accountants, engineers, chemists and the like, who are focused more on the tasks at hand. Helping the two groups work together is a key to his success.
Here are the three guiding principles for bridging vision to action from my conversation with Shaun.
1. Set goals. Both the visionaries and the task-oriented members of the team can see value in specific, measurable goals. Build them across time frames, including as little as 30 days, so the less visionary can focus on action.
2. Discuss failure. To bridge this divide, Shaun says, you need to hold people—including yourself—accountable for failures and forgive them. You need to model the behavior. Stand up, when appropriate, to say, “I failed” or “I made a mistake.” People need to know that when doing challenging things, you pair accountability with forgiveness. Note, however, that doesn’t mean tolerating negligence.
3. Focus on results. Perhaps the most critical principle for bridging the visionary and the action-oriented is focusing on and reporting results. Create a dashboard of data. Show the numbers and the details. Note the progress made toward longer-term goals. The big-picture people will love to see the results just as much as the doers will take pride in them.
By following these principles, you can better connect the people who are thinking about your work differently. Getting them on the same page will help you drive more results and keep everyone moving in the same direction. Even if you don’t choose to make this your superpower, remember to employ these principles whenever you can. Imagine the difference it will make in your impact.
This is a sample chapter of Superpowers for Good.