What Daddy Read a Book is Teaching Me Pt. 1

When I first had the idea to start Daddy Read a Book, I had something of a bad taste in my mouth from volunteering with other nonprofits. The other nonprofits did important work, with good staff, and usually a great story, too.

The problem was always execution. So, I decided that I would start and run Daddy Read a Book like a start-up. I would treat donors like investors and our recipients like customers, and commit myself, the board and our volunteers to doing something that is incredible and also well executed.

I’ve learned a lot in the past few months trying to do that. There’s a lot in store for Daddy Read a Book, so this is the first of a number of reflections on what I’ve learned.

Here’s some more color on the process…

Chief Everything Officer

When you are starting and leading something new, you are responsible to do it all. This is true in nonprofits, as well as business, social and school clubs, and political campaigns.

You schedule, edit, plan strategically, email, design, draft, create, and you should love it. You are the engine, tires and the driver. For you, faster means farther.

I enjoy being busy, so this is a good place for me to be. The challenge will be in a few months once Daddy Read a Book hires the first employee and I stop doing everything myself. I’ve been reading about start-up CEOs compared to larger organization CEOs, and I’m well aware that my job starts becoming more and more about empowering the people who work with me and holding them accountable to defined goals.

Lead From the Why

There’s a great TED talk from Simon Sinek, where he explains what differentiates great leaders and companies, and how they drive successful products.
He argued that there’s a pattern of communication from great leaders. He titled his codification “The Golden Circle”. Conventional leaders start with the what, move to the how, then maybe get to the why. Better leaders start with the why, then the how, then the what.

His conclusion was the people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it. In some conversations, I have failed to start with why I’m doing this; why it’s important for sons and daughters to be connected with their father, why it’s important to support the education of a child.

Overall, though, I have been aware of leading from the why and I think it’s helped in some of our early successes.

Motivating a Team

The first time I told my story and my idea for Daddy Read a Book, it was in front of a room of twelve people I had never met and I was asking for their help. So, I thought I would emulate what I had learned from Simon Sinek and the Golden Circle.

We talked about how I felt connected to my dad even though we were separated, and some of them had similar stories. We talked about how important it was for kids to be connected with their dads. I can’t take credit for their incredible generosity, but I do think how I presented the story was helpful in motivating them to donate probably more than $35,000 in company time.

* * *

There’s a lot in store for Daddy Read a Book, so this is only the first of a few posts reflecting on what I’ve learned.

More to follow in the coming months as I absorb everything.


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Chris Cottrell

Chris Cottrell

Hi, I'm Chris, an MBA student at Georgetown. I write about business school, tech, and startups. Find me on Twitter.

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