Paul Zelizer is one of the first business coaches to focus on the needs of social entrepreneurs and impact business leaders. He is the former Director of Social Media for Wisdom 2.0, one of the premier conscious business brands in the world. In 2017, he founded Awarepreneurs – two of the things the company is known for is our popular social entrepreneur podcast and the Awarepreneurs Community, a global network of hundreds of social entrepreneur leaders who support each other in growing our businesses, increasing our positive impact and practicing self care.
In addition to business as a path to change, Paul is passionate about trail running, gardening, meditation, music, dark chocolate, and time with the people he loves. He lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
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Table of Contents
We are thrilled to have you join us today, welcome to ValiantCEO Magazine’s exclusive interview! Let’s start off with a little introduction. Tell our readers a bit about yourself and your company.
Paul Zelizer: First of all, thank you all for inviting me to do this interview! I really appreciate it and am honored.
I am one of the first business coaches to focus on social entrepreneurs, and impact business leaders. And, I’m also the founder of a company called Awarepreneurs. We are best known for two things. First, we have one of the world’s leading social entrepreneur podcasts. Second, we have a membership community of almost 300 social entrepreneurs who help each other grow our businesses, increase our positive impact, and practice, self care and well being.
2020 and 2021 threw a lot of curve balls into business on a global scale. Based on the experience gleaned in the past couple years, how can businesses thrive in 2022? What lessons have you learned?
Paul Zelizer: Yeah, 2020 and 2021 have been quite a couple of years. What I can say in 2022, due to all the changes and things like the Great Resignation, one of the main lessons I’ve learned is that being clear about our values and having a clear sense of positive impact that a business wants to have. This is more important than ever, especially if you want to have customers who are under 40. For Gen Z and younger millennials, it’s becoming essential.
People don’t just want to just buy stuff. We’re in a very significant moment as a human family. And across the age span, but particularly with younger demographics, people want to do business with companies that have a vision for the world besides just making a bunch of money, . So one of the most significant lessons I’ve learned in the past few years is it’s more important now than ever to be really clear about the dent that your business is making in the world and be able to articulate exactly how you do that.
The pandemic seems to keep on disrupting the economy, what should businesses focus on in 2022? What advice would you share?
Paul Zelizer: Just providing a shiny object or a decent product used to work in business. But it’s working less and less now.
We have some of the smartest minds on the planet – the IPCC that’s connected to the United Nations – telling us we are in a “code red” situation. That’s not my opinion. That’s some of the smartest people on the planet.
Businesses that pretend that these big issues (which are also huge opportunities) aren’t there are struggling more and more. So I encourage leaders to be business that has a positive vision and to contribute to making the world a better place. You need to able to articulate what you’re doing, how you’re sourcing your products and how doing business with your company is contributing to positive impact. If you’re not doing that, the longer you take to get up to speed with the rest of the marketplace, the more likely you are to struggle.
How has the pandemic changed your industry and how have you adapted?
Paul Zelizer: The world of social entrepreneurship and positive impact in business has absolutely exploded in the past five years, especially in the past two. It’s a space I’ve been working in for 15 years.. But I’ve never seen anything like the level of interest that we’re seeing right now. And I predicted that’s only going to continue to accelerate.
What advice do you wish you received when the pandemic started and what do you intend on improving in 2022?
Paul Zelizer: Obviously, when the pandemic started, there, I was dealing with a lot of uncertainty as were many other people. Fortunately, my business has been mostly online for many years now. So it didn’t effect my income or where I worked. However, what I found is that it disrupted the mechanisms I had developed for building in deeper connections and learning. The balance of in person and online got completely disrupted. Due to social distancing, I had much less in person connections. I didn’t realize how much I had created rhythms of connecting with people in person to balance the large majority of my paid work being on time. or just how much those connections mean to me.
So going into 2022 and beyond I’m working to create opportunities to connect meaningfully in person and balance out the opportunities that the online tools allow me. To be more intentional about that balance, because it was really missing it these past few years and having very little of it reduced my innovation and impact.
Online business surged higher than ever, B2B, B2C, online shopping, virtual meetings, remote work, Zoom medical consultations, what are your expectations for 2022?
Paul Zelizer: I think these past few years have shown us that it’s possible to do business in ways that previously we couldn’t imagine. For example, AirBnb just announced that it’s employees can work from anywhere in the world for ever. I’m a big fan of what these means for our lifestyle and ability to connect with our loved ones
At the same time, like I said above, I think it’s essential to balance this flexibility with plenty of real world, face-to-face connecting. Otherwise, I believe issues with increased anxiety & loneliness and reduced creativity are likely outcomes.
How many hours a day do you spend in front of a screen?
Paul Zelizer: As I had mentioned, I’ve been working at home for more than 15 years. So things like virtual meetings and working with people around the world are waters I’ve been swimming in for a really long time.
One of the key things I’ve learned in this time is be mindful of how many hours a day I spend in front of a screen. I do best when I keep it to under 5 hours. But realistically, a more typical day I average about 5.5-6 hours. For this to work, I have learned that I need to have clear priorities about what’s essential and what’s non essential. And as I keep that in mind, I find that I can pretty regularly keep my average to that five to six hour mark.
The majority of executives use stories to persuade and communicate in the workplace. Can you share with our readers examples of how you implement that in your business to communicate effectively with your team?
Paul Zelizer: Storytelling is an essential skill for impact business owners. In addition to HAVING a vision of what we want the world that we pass on to our children or grandchildren to look like, we need to help people around us be able to CONNECT with that vision.
Storytelling is an essential skill to do this.
As a way to grow my capacity to do this, I took a storytelling class about 3 years ago. I worked for 2 months to prepare the lessons I learned from my child’s birth – it was a tense situation where there was a potential life threatening situation and we had to rush to the hospital even though we were hoping to do a home birth. Despite or maybe because we had such challenges to overcome to see this beautiful baby into the world, that moment I stood there holding this new life in my hands, cutting the umbilical cord, counting each toe and then looking deeply into those newborn eyes for the very first time … it was one of the most sacred experiences of my lifetime.
I’ve leverage what I learned in preparing and sharing that story in front of several hundred people into my impact business work. In fact, late last year I conducted a Masterclass on Storytelling for Impact Entrepreneurs for our membership community of over 300 social entrepreneurs. In almost 5 years of offering monthly masterclasses, this is one of the top 3 that our community members have mentioned as being most helpful in growing their businesses.
I would highly suggest other business leaders work to increase your comfort level and skills in leveraging storytelling to grow your business.
Business is all about overcoming obstacles and creating opportunities for growth. What do you see as the real challenge right now?
Paul Zelizer: As I mentioned before, the IPCC says we are in a code red situation in terms of climate change. How we’re living here on planet earth as a human family is not sustainable. It’s one of the biggest challenges we’ve ever faced.
I also think it’s an incredible opportunity.
One of the challenges I see right now if leaders who want to keep doing business as usual, There’s a lot of money being made by standard business practices that are harmful to our planet. Many leaders have been ignoring or pretending that we’re not in the situation that we’re in.
Yet, if we don’t have a planet, you can’t have a profitable business, It sounds pretty basic and pretty obvious. And based on many business leaders behavior, it needs to be said. And we need to find ways to compassionately yet fiercely work with this tendency to deny, pretend and greenwash.
In 2022, what are you most interested in learning about? Crypto, NFTs, online marketing, or any other skill sets? Please share your motivations.
Paul Zelizer: One of the most exciting skill sets to me is how to resource people who are already working on some of these big challenges that I’ve talked about.
This is a strategy that the United Nations is committed to. The United Nations has what’s called the Sustainable Development Goals, there’s 17 of them – everything from sustainably growing food, to gender equity, to doing business in sustainable ways, to clean water for everyone. And those sustainable development goals have been identified and agreed upon at an international level as a pathway for humans to live sustainable on this planet. This is how we turn the ship!
One of the things the United Nations is doing is working hard to scale the enterprises in each of those 17 areas to help them grow and help more people. It’s not like we don’t have any businesses or social enterprises working in these areas, we have a lot of them. But they tend to be smaller and have less access to capital, than businesses that are less focused on sustainability.
So the United Nations is actively working to help support and scale these businesses. And I’m learning a lot about that and am very excited to be in that conversation. I’m actively learning how I can personally and the people in my networks can contribute to scaling businesses that are doing work in alignment with the SDGs.
A record 4.4 million Americans left their jobs in September in 2021, accelerating a trend that has become known as the Great Resignation. 47% of people plan to leave their job during 2022. Most are leaving because of their boss or their company culture. 82% of people feel unheard, undervalued and misunderstood in the workplace. Do you think leaders see the data and think “that’s not me – I’m not that boss they don’t want to work for? What changes do you think need to happen?
Paul Zelizer: Yeah, this is a fascinating dynamic. The Great Resignation is probably the most significant trend in the workplace in our lifetimes.
In the circles that I move in, we’re not surprised by the Great Resignation. Not at all.
The way that I and many people in my network are looking at what’s happening is due to COVID and things like the racial reckoning that came into more popular culture after George Floyd’s death – many of us paused to reevaluate what’s important. What are our values? What do we want to be making sure we’re working towards when we go to work (the majority of our waking hours)?
And what I think the great resignation, at its most foundational level is people saying to things. First, I need to be working in a situation where I’m respected, and my contribution is valued. And number two, that my values and sense of what I want the world to look like – that my work is contributing to that. Not just creating shiny objects.
Let me give you an example. One of my impact focused business colleagues had a fairly entry level marketing job in an absolutely awesome company, I mean, just an amazing impact focused company. She listed that job. And within just a couple of days got hundreds – I don’t even remember how many hundreds of applications for a simple marketing position. She had to close the process within 72 hours because she got incredible candidates and she just couldn’t vet anymore.
This is not uncommon in the impact space. Those companies where people are valued and positive impact are clearly baked into the DNA of that business, those companies are not struggling to either recruit or retain people.
So going forward, I think companies need to be very clear. That single bottom line only companies aren’t compelling in today’s labor market. And that we have to learn as business leaders to create cultures that are supportive, and where emotional intelligence is understood and practiced.
On a lighter note, if you had the ability to pick any business superpower, what would it be and how would you put it into practice?
Paul Zelizer: The people in the business world that I most respect have the superpower of being super connectors. They just care about people and are constantly networking and putting people who share values in touch with each other.
I’m pretty good at it and working to get better. I’d love to feel like it was a true superpower of mine because I’ve gotten so much from people who have world class levels of this skill.
What does “success” in 2022 mean to you? It could be on a personal or business level, please share your vision.
Paul Zelizer: For me, it means a couple things. Number one, the biggest thing it means is that when I wake up and I go to work, I feel like I’m making a difference. That’s huge!
I also would add that quality life is tremendously important. Even if I continue to have plenty of money and a sense of purpose of work, I’ve seen people who don’t have much left in the tank for their loved ones or having a life outside of work. So for instance, I’m a trail runner and do a lot of outdoor adventures of all kinds. Every five to six weeks I take a few days to several weeks and go do an adventure. So to have enough money to live well, and to also have enough time to be with the people I love and to be to have a life outside of work and to do things that are interesting and have a sense of adventure to them are also deeply embedded in my definition of success.
Jed Morley, VIP Contributor to ValiantCEO and the host of this interview would like to thank Paul Zelizer for taking the time to do this interview and share his knowledge and experience with our readers.
If you would like to get in touch with Paul Zelizer or his company, you can do it through his – Linkedin Page
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