I learned very little on my best days.
I learned early on that you cannot be seduced by incredible talent over shared values. I worked with the most brilliant, talented writer, creative thinker and campaign developer. Oh my, was he gifted! Sadly, he lacked core values that were necessary for an effective leadership team. Not having the same values of trust, respect and collaborative leadership styles will cost far more in the long run in unhappy teammates who will leave, and disruption when you need to show that partner the door.
Pay it forward one person at a time. I once received great advice from a senior executive who I admired greatly for his success, and his track record of community support and volunteerism. I was fortunate enough to sit beside him at a fundraiser dinner and asked him how he had made such a huge impact for his community. He said, “one person at a time”. I took that advice and immediately started welcoming college students and interns into my companies. The benefits were immeasurable for me and the students. Plus, the learning goes both ways! It’s kept me current on what ‘the kids’ are into in terms of technology, social media and more. It’s a win-win!
At every stage, at every company I started, I made sure I was surrounded by a great accountant, business lawyer and banker. My accountant has been by my side for 20 years. He’s a brilliant entrepreneur’s accountant. He understands all the rules and regulations and was a critical sounding board at every stage of growth. Surround yourself with a great team. Here are two things I’ve learned from not getting the right counsel: 1) always insist on a breakage clause (if the other party doesn’t deliver) and 2) never sign an exclusivity (with a few caveats).
Being a CEO can be very lonely. No one is patting me on the back, saying ‘well done’ or ‘nice work’. I’ve participated in an Entrepreneurial Leaders’ Program started with a grant from the Canadian business icon, Wallace McCain. This program allowed me to develop deep friendships with other regional entrepreneurs operating high growth businesses. This program caters to the holistic CEO. I recommend exploring what’s available.
Hire a coach. I’ve had two executive coaches in my life and both experiences were exceptional. It kept me focused, solutions and goal-oriented, and overall confident, as I had to navigate through exciting growth phases and some challenging ones. Having an executive coach is not a luxury, it’s as critical as having reliable wifi in running a successful business.
Learn to say “no” without guilt. As a woman/entrepreneur/mother/daughter/sister/friend, balancing all of the relationships, responsibilities and joy in my life can often get complicated. I’ve learned that no one can make you feel guilty. I literally NEVER feel guilty anymore. Guilt is giving your power away. This is where another key learning comes in: learning to kindly, without apology or explanation, say “no”. That is a perfectly acceptable answer.
You can have it all. And you can have it all at the same time, just not in equal parts and you need to be willing to compromise, communicate and prioritize. Life is so short. If we wait for the right time in our careers, or to be in the right house, or have the right car, or have the right amount of money saved up to have kids, then we’ll be waiting and waiting. The time is never going to be right. Go for what you want.