From an early age, Mark Little loved being outdoors. His fascination with nature propelled him through his geology degree at Oxford, and then through a PhD in climate change. But simply being in nature wasn’t enough for Mark. He wanted to help solve one of our biggest problems: fuelling human development without trashing our planet.
Passion for sustainable development
As a young leader in his teens, Mark was always doing something about his passion for sustainability—whether it was a recycling project, or learning all he could about food shortages in Africa. And, after leaving university, Royal Dutch Shell, now the second largest oil and gas company in the world, was the place to make a difference. Shell had the global focus, the will, and the funds to address the complexities of sustainable resource development.
Mark’s work took him and his growing family around the globe and, eventually, to Western Canada. But he soon found himself confronted with new complexities. Although Mark Little was travelling along a trajectory that would take him to the highest levels of corporate leadership in the energy industry, he noticed a growing tension between his own values and his company’s values. He also began to experience the burdens that often come with a high-income-fuelled lifestyle.
When profitability loses purpose
Mark did not spend 22 years building a career in the energy industry simply to make money. “I wanted to make a difference. Profitability and purpose go together, but the new company I was with was losing focus on purpose.” Mark will be the first one to tell you that the money felt like handcuffs, and the handcuffs were getting tighter. Something needed to change.
When Mark Little was a Vice President in one of Canada’s largest energy companies, he took his career in a new, welcome direction. “We get so used to our environment, that we become unable to see how unhealthy it might be. I was just doing a job and I never signed-up for just a job,” Mark recalls. Mark left the energy industry and accepted an executive leadership position with Scouts Canada.
While growing up in Guilford, England, Mark’s love of the outdoors was sparked by his own adventures as a Cub Scout. Those experiences fuelled his interest in geography, geology and climatology. His foundation for a purpose-driven career was set.
Upon arriving in Canada, Mark began volunteering for Scouts and eventually served on the National Board of Governors. Now, as Executive Director of Scouting Experience, Mark serves over 60,000 scouts and over 20,000 volunteers across Canada, along with his team members at Scouts Canada’s main office in Ottawa.
Mark told me, “This might be difficult for some people in my former companies to understand, but since joining Scouts Canada as Executive Director of Scouting Experience, my life is better in every possible way.” Mark and his team share the same purpose, and they work to create that same, positive experience for everyone at Scouts.
The tension and the sweet-spot
Mark Little is definitely a glass-half-full kind of guy—an optimist with an ability to inspire people around him—but he’s also a realist with no illusions about the difficult decisions we all have to make about our working lives.
“When we begin our careers,” Mark says, “there’s always tension between needing to make a living, our personal values, and our company’s values. But, you should never have to trade your personal values for money, or for the company’s values. We need to find that sweet-spot.”
Mark and his executive peers at Scouts, like all senior leaders who are dedicated to their organization’s purpose, work hard. “We do tough work, and it can be stressful, but it’s a good stress with a purposeful mission.”
What’s next for Mark Little?
Senior leadership roles in the corporate world provided Mark with unique experiences and skills. However, his work with Scouts has built skills that very few senior, corporate leaders will ever develop. “Even as a volunteer for Scouts, the stakeholder engagement and organizational change work that I did was at a level that only the highest corporate leaders are, occasionally, exposed to.”
Now, working for Scouts, Mark continues his purpose-driven working life, “I’m so grateful to be able to work for Scouts,” Mark said. “I love coming into work every day. My wife and both my teen-aged sons are involved in Scouts. It’s been great for all of us.” Scouts is what is now and next for Mark Little.
We can learn a lot from Mark’s journey along his career path. It’s a career that began focused on sustainability, and is now more sustainable than ever.
Is your work guided by purpose? Does being anchored in your values enable you to manage the stress and tension in the world of work? Do you believe that purpose and profitability need to go together? How? Please let me know by leaving a comment, below. Or, you can connect with me and comment on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter. Also, please share this article with your family, friends and coworkers.