Lisa Hickey - Building a business around a movement promoting healthy change
The Good Men Project was started over 11 years after Tom Matlack, a venture capitalist, interviewed men about the defining moments of their lives for a book by the same name. Lisa Hickey relays the story "it was the moment when men looked in the mirror and said, 'I thought I knew what it meant to be good. I thought I knew what it meant to be a man. And I realized I didn't know either.'" This disconnect sparked an awareness of the need for more conversations around what it means to be a good man.
Upon hearing about this need, Lisa Hickey drafted a business model which put promoting healthy masculinity at the center and presented it to Tom. Lisa became the CEO of The Good Men Project, which is an online magazine and media company spurring a movement to encourage healthy masculinity in the 21st century.
In the last 11 years, Lisa has seen the conversation around masculinity shift. Lisa reflects, "in the beginning, it was really about being a father. .. And then it seemed as if early on the big defining moment was becoming a parent becoming a dad. And men were making a conscious choice that they weren't going to be the kind of father that they had. So their own fathers were anywhere from strict disciplinarians to outright authoritarians, abusive dads. Really, the stories that I heard were profound and heartbreaking from these men and of how they had been raised. But to give them credit, they almost all of them said, I understand my dad was a product of the times and I am just going to make a conscious decision to do it differently with my own children. And I just thought that was such a moving and great way of seeing the way men were actually stepping up and redefining what masculinity looks like."
There were a number of ways men redefined their understanding of fatherhood. "The biggest thing is just to be there for their kids to be more engaged to be more present, to learn not how to react in anger, when their kids did something wrong."
Above and beyond that, fathers were openly questioning a common misconception in our society that only moms were born to be parents. "What we found is that dads really thought that they were born to be parents too, they have this intuitive nurturing, it was just that society tried to suck it all out of them."
In the conversations held about masculinity, Lisa saw a "willingness to understand that things don't have to be the way that they always were. And that they might need to learn new coping strategies, whether it's being a father, it's in the workplace, the way they deal with people the way they are as a boss... all of these things that we just kind of take for granted are going to be a part of living and that actually, people have to actively learn them."
Lisa observed there are "all sorts of ways in which men try to maintain the status quo. So they can maintain that system of dominance, that men are in positions of power, historically, and even today. And so not everyone wants to change. And I think that's one of the biggest struggles we've had."
As the CEO of the Good Men Project, Lisa has been driven to marry a movement with business savvy practices. She had a vision to "create a business that could sustain this conversation and grow it in a variety of ways, create different products, create different services."
Over time, the Good Men Project has evolved. "We try to roll out one new way of expanding the conversation every two years, approximately. So things like paid memberships. And these phone calls, we call them social interest groups. So every weeknight, we have a phone call about a different topic. So there's Monday, there's relationships. On Tuesday, there's stopping racism. On Wednesday, it's just the GMP playlist where whatever headlines are most exciting. Thursday is climate change. And Friday is the call with the publisher...we really like that it's just an old-fashioned phone conference, so people can't really see each other, they can only listen to the value of other people's ideas, which we find really important."
Lisa has mindfully struck a balance between providing information products like articles and interactive experiences. "There was something about live conversations that was just fundamental, and infinitely different than, you know, articles or even the comment sections or social media. It's like we're in a room together figuring this out in real-time."
People from a variety of backgrounds are invited to these conversations. Handling differences while keeping the conversations focused and meaningful is a collective skill they've developed over time. "The people who have been coming for a long time really helped the other people understand how to get into it in a productive way. And, you know, sometimes the conversations have fallen apart, if somebody is really actively trying to derail the call is actively being a troll in a way, or just really pushing back or attacking other people. But even then we've learned, you know, okay, just mute them, and move on, you know. I feel like we've, we've encountered all of these obstacles, and just sort of dealt with them as we as they come up."
More recently, they've explored ways to support Diversity, Equity and Inclusion efforts. The essence of their work is around addressing resistance. In their workshops, "It's getting men to see in themselves, why they might be resisting, but also it's helping the people who are organizing these things and you know, trying to make a change, trying to make cultural change in their organizations, and coming up against the resistance. And so helping them understand why there is resistance, helping men understand why they are resisting. Seems like a piece that we need to break through on."
Lisa observes that resistance isn't a flaw but part of human nature. It "is a very human thing. I was just thinking, when technology changes on my computer, when there's a new interface, I'm like, Wait, why did you change that? I liked the status quo...I have to overcome that resistance. And I have to understand that it's ultimately going to hopefully make my life better if I just dive in and make the change."
Not surprisingly, it did feel a bit strange, two women having a conversation about promoting healthy masculinity. Lisa assured me that women play an important role in defining what it means to be a good man. "I totally think women have to play a part and have to understand. First of all, it just gives more empathy to everyone, if we understand as women, what men are going through, and why they're dealing with things in the way that they're dealing...even things like the #MeToo movement, it's not just about women and what they're going through, it's the fact that women are having these problems because men are in the equation too. And we have to step up together. We have to look at these problems together. We have to solve them and figure it out. So I just don't really see it as us versus them or something that's exclusionary."
Sometimes people mistake empathy for making excuses. "I think it's so important to understand that empathy is actually understanding why the other person did what they did, and holding them accountable. Accountability is part of the empathy."
We concluded the conversation by talking about what Co-creating looks like at the Goodmen Project, "we think of ourselves as very much constantly creating together, constantly evolving how we create. We're all virtual, but we work together on sharing spreadsheets, documents, and technology, and then we come together on calls... There's no real hierarchy, we just work together to figure out problems and to solve them together."
Connect with Lisa:
The Good Men Project Website - https://goodmenproject.com/
Lisa's Email - firstname.lastname@example.org