Much of what Fred Haberman, co-founder and CEO of Minneapolis-based marketing agency Haberman, knows about leadership came from his summer job at Camp Manito-wish in northern Wisconsin.

The camp emphasized experiential learning, collaboration and “trail leadership,” said Haberman, who worked there during his college years and for a period after graduating. (It’s also where he and agency co-founder Sarah Haberman were married).

“I learned a lot about what it means to have a purpose or a mission and how that can then translate into motivating individuals,” said Haberman, recognized for his leadership in Top Workplaces’ small-company category.

The camp’s collaborative, motivational spirit lives on at Haberman, where the agency’s mission is “to tell the stories of pioneers making a difference in the world.”

It shapes the way Haberman approaches business as a social enterprise that can address human or environmental issues while operating on a sustainable financial model. It influences who the agency works with, such as polar explorer Ann Bancroft and Wisconsin cooperative Organic Valley, among others.

The agency-on-a-mission approach also inspires the side ventures Haberman pursues, from launching the U.S. Pond Hockey Championships in Minneapolis to creating an agency-sponsored, employee-tended organic garden, to co-founding Urban Organics, a USDA-certified organic aquaponics farm that produces tilapia and vegetables in a restored St. Paul brewery.

“We have the craziness or the naiveté or the impulse that we can’t control to try to be pioneers ourselves or be part of something that is pioneering,” Haberman said. “When we do that particularly in a category that we’re passionate about, we then also begin to learn and have that much more empathy for what our clients go through. It also provides new avenues for our employees to learn.”

Haberman’s camp experience also offered insight into building a staff, with advice from a board member and mentor who recommended hiring based on candidates’ values and the experiential learning, intellectual curiosity and servant leadership they had exhibited.

Or as Haberman boils it down: “Hire people who are smarter and better than you.”

Today the agency evaluates candidates largely on three characteristics: kindness, brilliance and adaptability — a code word, Haberman said, for the vulnerability to ask for help, which he said deepens connections on a team.

“The experiment that Haberman represents beyond its mission is to find work for people that they’re passionate about,” he said. “it’s also, of course, work that I’m passionate about. When people are passionate about something they tend to go the extra mile, think a little more creatively and be more intellectually curious — and the odds for good things happening increase.”

Haberman learned about social entrepreneurship from his parents, who are on the board of directors of the Herz­feld Foundation in Milwaukee, which supports the arts, education and civic improvements.

“They’ve been committed to the betterment of their community for as long as I can remember,” Haberman said. “That instilled this powerful idea of being a servant leader. I’m always trying to live up to what they would do and have not quite made it yet.”

Todd Nelson is Woodbury-based freelance writer.