Erin Ganju, co-founder and CEO of Room to Read
Photograph by Sergio Villareal
By Erin Ganju
November 30, 2015

MPW Insider is an online community where the biggest names in business and beyond answer timely career and leadership questions. Today’s answer for: What is the biggest leadership lesson you’ve learned in the past year? is written by Erin Ganju, co-founder and CEO of Room to Read.

It’s amazing what one can learn about leadership from a children’s book or classic fairytale. Take, for example, Margaret Wise Brown’s classic Goodnight Moon in which a rabbit says goodnight to every little thing in his bedroom, and even says a sincere goodnight to “Nobody.” The story is simple and often thought of as a bedtime ritual, but I think it sends a clear message about the importance of recognizing the little things, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant. It also perfectly highlights what I’ve learned about leadership this year: You can make the most informed decisions for your organization when you recognize and understand the needs of those you are affecting.

For this reason, at Room to Read we assess our programs by their outcomes in order to determine what needs are high priority and where we can provide the most impact. We recognize the little things by dedicating research to figuring out, for instance, what exactly children like about the books we publish, or what specific risks indicate a girl may not complete her education. We learned that children enjoyed our local language books on account of their colorful illustrations, and the fact that their fonts, letter sizes, and number of words per page make them easier to read.

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All of our research efforts and conversations with children ultimately clarified where we should invest our time and resources. With more kid-friendly books on the shelves, more children will check out books from their libraries and develop a lifelong habit of reading. We also now understand how to identify girls who are most at risk of not completing their education thanks to our early-warning system that enables us to provide additional targeted support to girls in need. I think anyone who takes a targeted approach to understanding their consumer or client base, and responding to feedback, will create many more opportunities for the growth of their business.

It has been a challenging, but rewarding year to be a leader of a global nonprofit organization — following the earthquakes in Nepal, we are focused on rebuilding the educational infrastructure in that country and across Asia and Africa, and have reached our goal of impacting 10 million children. We would not have worked through these challenges or reached this milestone had we not taken the time to acknowledge the little things that drive our business forward.

Read all responses to the MPW Insider question: What is the biggest leadership lesson you’ve learned in the past year?

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