Planned Parenthood has been making headlines frequently since Donald Trump came into office, as has their now-former CEO, who just recently stepped down from the position. This is especially true this month, with Iowa's Republican governor implementing the most restrictive abortion law in the United States and with the Trump Administration pushing a plan to fully cut funding from Title X, a federal program that administers funding for family planning and preventative health services across the nation.
No matter where you stand on the issues surrounding Planned Parenthood, the response of its former CEO, Cecile Richards, to the Trump administration's proposals has been a lesson in leadership.
As entrepreneurs, CEOs and leaders, you are constantly going to be challenged. Board members, competition, and even peers can become real obstacles. In the face of that, it's important that you continue to be a strong leader. Here two key takeaways you can learn from Cecile Richards:
1. Stay true to your mission, even if you're being doubted.
Good entrepreneurs and leaders solve for major pain points in society. Whether it's ride-sharing, internet accessibility, or healthcare services, the companies and people who make a lasting difference are the ones who provide real solutions to issues.
This means cutting to the root of the problem you are trying to solve, and not just when it's the easy thing to do. You need to do this when things aren't going in your favor just as much, if not more, than when things are.
Sometimes that means building platforms and expanding on ideas that are ahead of their time.
When challenged, good leaders don't just give up and switch to the next trend. They continue to believe in their work and double down on their mission.
In a 2017 interview with Marie Claire, Richards gave an example of this:
"Until we have more people in Congress who have had to deal with a lump in their breast and are worried about, 'Can I find an affordable provider that can see me now?' things are not going to change."
When challenged by prominent political leaders, Richards doesn't bend and cater. She goes all in on her beliefs and does so in a way the empowers her peers to be a part of the change she wants to see in the world.
Notably, Tesla Motors followed this tried and tested rule when starting out. Telsa's mission was to be the world's first electric sports car, but it didn't see a profitable quarter until ten years after it launched. Instead of caving, cutting corners or giving up, the company continued to stay true to its principles and created a revolutionary car brand.
2. Don't leverage your audience (or customers base) for funding.
Entrepreneurs are constantly put in tough scenarios. Sometimes this means choosing between essential funds and your customers' best interests. It seems somewhat natural to prioritize funding, especially when it could mean the difference between sinking and swimming.
Even so, good leaders put their audience first.
Now more than ever, a customer-centric business model is essential. According to TechCrunch, Medallia's CEO Borge Hald believes companies need to adapt and start putting their customers at the center of everything they do. Hald said:
"What we see happening is customer-centric companies who don't just get marketing right, but get delivery right, will inherit the earth, and those who can't execute and be accountable to customers will have a hard time surviving."
Cecile Richards demonstrated this very leadership quality when speaking to Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner. This past April, Richards was interviewed on CNN about their meeting. Richards recounted:
"It was pretty clear that at least what was in Jared's mind was that if we would just simply quit providing safe and legal abortion to women in this country, that he would talk to Paul Ryan about getting us money, or perhaps more money, and I just said: 'Look, we are not going to trade away women's rights in this country for money.'"
Although she was being offered help and needed funding for her organization, Richards stood by her constituents and stayed true to Planned Parenthood's mission. Good leaders need to think about the big picture, not just the immediate gains.