Beyond Fearless Leadership: Moving Impact Forward

This summer I joined four other Fellows from my Henry Crown Fellowship class (2011) along with hundreds of inspiring leaders from around the world at the Action Forum, to explore the theme of “Fearless Leadership.” Throughout the week, as I moved between thought-provoking sessions, rekindled old friendships, and sparked new connections, we discussed how we might each overcome inertia, insecurity, and inhibition to take action. The potential power of our collective talents was palpable.

At the same time, I carried a nagging sense of disquiet around this notion of fearlessness. After all, you could say many of history’s greatest horrors were perpetrated by leaders who felt no fear. Being fearless is the start of the journey from success to significance, but it must also be grounded by a moral compass and effectively actualized to realize meaningful change. Over the past several years, I have immersed myself in the latter – how can we make the pursuit of impact as relentless as businesses’ pursuit of profits?

As we well know, good intentions are not enough. On the lawn at the Action Forum was a giant sign entitled “Close the Gap” that depicted the wide gulf between existing solutions and societal challenges. Too often, enormous time, energy, and resources are poured into interventions that barely make a dent. Between striving to meet both pressing needs and the expectations of funders, there’s a tendency to settle for solutions that are “good enough.” Instead, in the face of this daunting gap, we need to be more ambitious in our goals, take measured risk to experiment with promising alternatives, and possess the humility to recognize when we don’t have all the answers.

My exploration led me to write Lean Impact, to reveal the paths entrepreneurial leaders have uncovered to maximize the depth and breadth of their social impact. It includes the inspiring stories of several AGLN Fellows such as Henry Crown Fellow Maryana Iskander and ALI - South Africa Fellow Nicola Galombik at Harambee Youth Accelerator who took a rigorous, data-driven approach to help over 50,000 disadvantaged youth in South Africa find jobs. And, Pahara Fellow Dianne Tavenner who ran 57 week-long iterations to refine Summit Public School’s transformative approach to personalized learning. And of course, inaugural McNulty Prize winner and Henry Crown Fellow Jordan Kassalow who made several pivots in his pursuit of scale, from the early days of “vision entrepreneurs” at Vision Spring to activating collective action through the EYElliance. 

By setting their ambitions high, following the data, and building agility into their cultures, each of these fellows has been able to deliver outsized results. Silicon Valley has embraced innovation to accelerate a pace of change that has reshaped the world. Now it’s our responsibility to not only move beyond fear, but to harness these proven techniques for good.

Want to learn more? Visit or pre-order Lean Impact here.

Ann Mei Chang is a 2011 Henry Crown Fellow and author of Lean Impact: How to Innovate for Radically Greater Social Good. She is also the former Chief Innovation Officer at USAID and Mercy Corps and former Senior Engineering Director at Google. Connect with Ann Mei by visiting her AGLN profile. 

Posted by Ann Mei Chang on Sep 30, 2018 7:04 AM America/Denver