charity: water COO’s “Relentless Pursuit Of More”

Lauren Letta

with Lauren Letta

COO at charity: water

charity: water COO’s “Relentless Pursuit Of More”

charity: water COO’s “Relentless Pursuit Of More” 299 278 33Voices

charity: water COO Lauren Letta and Jenna walk through her extraordinary impact helping reinvent the charity model and end the global water crisis; Helping give over 8.4 million people access to clean water. Each of Lauren’s experiences – from interviewing 200 Ethiopians and pairing them with similar charity: water donors to planning a live well drilling at their acclaimed charity ball – has been made possible by her choice to focus on growth rather than titles or compensation in her career. We dive into why that’s essential to our growth and happiness and how to evaluate whether an opportunity will be truly fulfilling. We also chat about how to develop a solutions-oriented mindset to stay calm under pressure (demonstrated through averting a few potentially event-ending charity: ball catastrophes) and setting an intention to keep your eyes and mind open to alternative approaches.

Highlights from the Transcript

  • On holding onto your early energy and enthusiasm: “charity: water today feels similar to the early days when it was just a small group of us working around the clock. One of our values is excellence. The way I interpret that is the relentless pursuit of more. We never finish something before we’re dreaming up the next thing; That constant energy and drive has been persistent since the early days.” 
  • On staying calm under pressure: “I try to stay as calm as possible. It’s hard to get me riled up. I like to be even and solutions oriented. I try to constantly be thinking: What are the next five options to solve this? No problem is insurmountable. There is always a way you can persevere and get through it. Things always work out and leave you with a good story.”
  • On creating her own career path: “I’ve held almost every position in this organization and have been able to touch so many different parts of it, from creative and marketing, to product and engineering, building our donor relationships and more. That has allowed me to push past the edge of things I never imagined myself doing. Growth doesn’t always look linear: Going from senior director to manager then executive. The question should be: What new challenge do you want to try? How are you going to bring your own unique perspective and expertise to something you haven’t done before?” 
  • On not focusing on titles: “If I would have been focused on titles I would have shortsighted myself. Titles and compensation are important but they aren’t the most important thing. They aren’t going to change your life. What’s going to change your life, career trajectory, and everything else is the passion and heart that you put in…For me, I’ve never been driven by thinking ‘I can’t wait to be XYZ at the company’ or making a certain amount of money. It’s always been about the type of work I was doing and the people I was doing it with. I would have never been here or experienced any of this if I kept following the path I moved to New York to pursue. If I didn’t take risks that fell outside the course I saw for myself I’d be in a different place and I’m very happy about the place I am in now.”
  • On “keeping your eyes and mind open”: “I am someone who goes deep on things and tends to like to know the answer before someone asks the question. That can get in the way of being open minded and listening. Surrounding myself with really smart people who I respect has helped me widen my perspective, become a better listener, and see things from different lenses. That’s come with me as I’ve grown and is something I want to continue to set as an intention: Zooming out, seeing things from other points of view, and being open and accepting that things can be solved in many different ways.” 
  • On being a constant learner: “I learn something from every person and every conversation, every day.” 
  • On owning your role: “My husband Michael, who was CFO at charity: water, and I have honed in on our love of being a number two…I am a generalist, operator, and executor, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have big ideas and dreams and be a strategist. I remember us zeroing in on the idea, which is one I think I heard Miguel, the co-founder of WeWork, share, that we like being right next to the light. Scott is an incredible inspiration and I don’t know anyone who works as hard and cares so much. I care so much about every single detail of what we do and I really learned that from him. He’s done an incredible job of building an organization where the values are the core part of who we are and stay with us. That level of integrity to oneself is another really compelling thing I have seen.” 
  • On dreaming: “I have recently found this ability to dream and think about ideas at a scale that I hadn’t allowed myself to previously…There’s a shift of tapping into my creative self that hasn’t been as well explored in my execution mode as it can be in my exploratory mode.”