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Female Entrepreneurs Archives | Underwood Executive | Executive Search & Talent Management

2 years, 10 reflections….what I’ve learnt from striking out on my own

By | Business, Leadership, Results

 

8403f4cd7065ebac2b1e75374500b3e2This month I reached the 2-year milestone of running my own business. The day came and went with a team lunch, congratulatory messages and thoughts of wow that went fast. Other than that, it was a normal day and business as usual.

I was made to reflect on this achievement this week when I interviewed an executive who is at a crossroad.  He is deciding between pursuing a leadership career path to CEO or to continue as a sought after expert in the management consulting space.  I made a suggestion of a third choice “you could build your own business empire” and he laughed and said “I respect people who put their own homes on the line to build a business – but that’s not for me!” It hit me in that moment; I was included in that reference. I made that decision 2 years ago to back myself with a vision of creating something great. That optimism in my DNA kicked in and I never considered that it wouldn’t be a success or the depth of risk, if it went pear-shaped. This is not egotistical. It’s encompassed belief, capitalising on opportunities and a desire to make a difference.

Before you jump and put it “all on the line”, here’s 10 things I’ve learnt from taking the leap 2 years ago:

1. It’s up to you – I find being in control and 100% accountable for direction and results thrilling and motivating, but understand that this sort of risk and accountability might scare the bejesus out of you. There is no regular monthly pay, or leave provisions, if you like being the master of your destiny; you can put a tick here.

2. Do what you love – waking up excited about what the day may hold, who I’ll met and be inspired by is a rare commodity for the majority of the population (I know through many interviews!).  You want to be sure that you are dedicating your energy to something you know you are passionate about. You can’t fake a love for what you do.

3. Conservative growth – I read an article in the first month of being on my own that said entrepreneurs should not hire any staff in the first 12 months – only when you are desperate for more hands. I was tempted many times – but only hired my first team member 6 months ago.  The benefit was getting my hands dirty in every aspect of the business, defining the business strategy, knowing the pipeline was full and having clarity about who I wanted to work with day in and day out.

4. Vision – I didn’t take the plunge of starting my own business for a long time because I could not get crystal clear on the vision of what I wanted the business to look like. Let a vision evolve, just start doing because being in action allows the cream to come to the top. Sometimes it’s okay to not know all the details (take note control freaks!).

5. Culture – in my experience, culture drives everything in a business. The type of people who work with you, the type of clients you attract, the business decisions you make and the behaviours you demonstrate.  Know your own values – do a personality profile and don’t try and be something you’re not.

6. Clients – without them, I don’t have a business.  I make developing my connections and relationships a priority. I know at the core, these relationships are everything.  If you don’t have the discipline to “walk the walk” as well as converse with people, building a business is going to be incredibly difficult. In 2 years, it gives me a buzz to be working with some exciting, innovative and generous business people who are like-minded in the quest for finding and keeping executive talent.

7. External support – I was able to identify fairly early on that I wasn’t able to do everything on my own.  Outsourcing, asking for help and paying for expertise has been a great investment.  I have learnt many business lessons from listening to others – ongoing learning is an essential success ingredient.

8. Brand – you don’t have to spend a fortune, but you do need to stand out from the crowd. I met a brand expert recently who told me that your brand could only be world-class in one of three areas – excellence, reliability or innovation. Having this focus means your brand brings something others don’t and then you have to leverage that. The past 2 years I have consistently been told our brand is authentic, relationship focused and progressive.

9. Be healthy! When you run your own business, there is no calling in sick and asking someone else to cover for you. Being top of your game and staying healthy across all aspects of life – physically, mentally, emotionally is critical to staying optimistic in the tough moments!

10. Reward & enjoyment – no point waiting for a rainy day to enjoy the business success – whether that’s an indulgent purchase, time out or just doing the things you love most.  A very clever friend of mine said “pleasure is an absolute necessity for long-term success and it is essential to do things that make you feel delighted, delicious or just plain good.” I’m slowly learning to embrace this!

Since leaving my corporate role 2 years ago, I have consistently been told “you’ll build an empire again”, “it’s who you are”, “it’s in your blood”. I wasn’t so sure, but I can say it’s been a ride and the best is yet to come. I feel like I’m only half way up the mountain and I’m keen to see the view from the top.

 

Winning respect – 10 ways to give up wanting to be liked

By | Leadership, Results

I recently read about the upcoming release of Sheryl Sandberg’s new book “Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead”. As the COO of Facebook, she talks about Mark Zuckerberg (her boss) and the advice he gave re her desire to be liked by everyone and his belief that it would hold her back in her career.

This is the second time I have heard about a leaders’ desire to be liked in a matter of weeks.  One of my female coaching clients said to me “I want to be respected, but I still want to be liked a little bit too”.

Is it possible to have respect and be liked as a leader? Will this goal hold you back from being an effective leader long-term?

My first opportunity to lead a team early in my career, presented me with the immediate challenge of winning the respect of a group all older than me.  How was I going to win them over? I started with showing them my results – facts and figures and methodologies that were black and white – I figured they couldn’t argue with achievements! It was the first step in establishing respect.

Since then, I’ve learnt other strategies leaders can use in the race to win respect, while losing the notion of being everyone’s friend:

1.You’ve already got friends– I have challenged leaders in the past who have struggled with this concept that you already have friends and work is not necessarily the place to gather more. Sure you might make friends, but it shouldn’t be the primary focus – avoid blurring the lines.

2. Relationships – I’m not saying don’t be friendly or don’t have social interaction with people. Certainly there is a human element to leadership and part of building relationships is getting to know the personal side of your staff.  BUT leaders need to show consistency, professionalism and not play favourites.

3. Deal with non-performance – a leader who gains respect, will have the courage to deal with non-performance quickly and without fuss.  Focus on the behaviour, not the person.

4. Lead by example – a leader who sits in their office, is always busy and unavailable in meetings, will not gain the respect of their team. Walk the talk, get on the phone where people can hear you, go on client visits, sit in open plan – showing you can do the job wins respect.

5. Hold people to account – being clear on what people are responsible for, give them the knowledge and tools to perform their role and then get out of the way.

6. Be clear on what you stand for – a respectful leader knows their values, is clear on what is expected and consistently inspires through communicating the vision.

7. Intuition –  go with your gut and call behaviours as you see them.  If you have a ‘feeling’ someone is going to resign, or something is up with the person who had his or her arms crossed in the meeting – don’t ignore it. Trust your gut and have a conversation – nip issues in the bud and encourage an open dialogue, don’t let unspoken issues fester.

8. Recognise & reward – catching people doing the right thing and being very specific about what they have done well goes a long way to building respect.

9. Open communication – what’s happening in the company, good, bad or indifferent shouldn’t be a secret.  If you don’t talk, people will make up their own ideas and assume – sure fire way to kill respect.

10. High standards – a respectful leader will push you outside your comfort zone and show belief in you to go further to achieve more than you think possible.  Not many leaders are willing to push hard for fear of losing approval.

During my leadership career, it has been a learning journey to earn respect, some people probably liked me and others probably didn’t. The difference is that it didn’t actually bother me. Great if you do and it doesn’t matter if you don’t. My role as an effective leader is to believe in you, coach you to top performance and support you in that journey.   There is no easy path. That journey will require moments of being uncomfortable and challenged – a respected leader doesn’t apologise for that or seek approval.

The goal as a leader should certainly be more about behaving in ways that create respect and if people to like you too – it’s a bonus, but it definitely shouldn’t be the aim. 

“Popularity is temporary, Respect is timeless”


South Australia – the market, the future & the opportunity

By | Change, Results, Success

I attended the AMCHAM luncheon last week featuring Raymond Spencer, the Chair of the Economic Development Board in South Australia. I was curious to hear his view and outlook as clients and candidates have consistently been telling me over the past few months – it’s tough.  In 24 hours I had a job offer recalled due to ‘cash flow’ and ‘revenue concerns’ and another candidate told me he had his interview cancelled due to the company deciding to “not proceed for now”.  Let me just mention – both of these examples are in the apparently ‘booming’ resources sector. It demonstrates the current feeling of caution by businesses in Adelaide and this mentality of “let’s wait and see”.

Raymond certainly wasn’t backward in coming forward and was quite open in his observations and thoughts of the Adelaide business community.  I found his opinions to be refreshingly honest. In short, some of his comments included:

  • SA businesses aren’t aggressive enough – it’s just not part of our DNA and in general we have a glass half empty approach – being too quick to see what’s wrong vs. what’s right
  • We are very very lucky, there is a real opportunity here in SA right now – we just don’t realise how good we have it
  • Not enough attention is paid to organisational culture and embedding the right values and behaviours that deliver successful outcomes
  • We don’t support risk with the possibility of failure here vs. the US where innovation and risk are supported and expected
  • “People are our most important asset” – everyone says this, but how do you transfer this to your bottom line? It must come back to your culture and be entrenched in everything you do

I certainly felt he illustrated the conservatism in the Adelaide business community that “newbies” to our city usually describe and perhaps our definite lean towards pessimism not optimism. What they really mean is that we generally don’t like change and there is a fear factor about doing something different, taking a risk, considering alternatives or developing new relationships.  Doing things the way we have always done them tends to be our auto pilot strategy.

The bigger picture here of course is what Raymond highlighted  – that we are potentially missing a much larger opportunity.  This could pass us all by if we don’t come together as a business community and support each other, consider new alternatives such as joint ventures to win bigger business and be open to change.

His over-riding theme and certainly based on his own business success, was clear and not linked to the economy, market conditions or political landscape – it was this: business success still comes back to people, culture and leadership. Without these key elements at your business core, the rest is pointless.

Let’s agree – Adelaide is a great place to do business. We have growth industries, we have talented people, we have the lifestyle and the cost of living, so we should all be open to new ideas and ways of doing things and embrace the opportunities before us by taking action with an attitude of positivity.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Women in leadership – can we “have it all”?

By | Leadership, Women in Leadership, Work Life Balance

I recently met an incredibly motivated and driven female leader.  She is dedicated, loves the company she works for, thrives on feedback to improve and wants to achieve top performance status every year at her annual review.  In discussing her career and future plans – she stopped mid sentence and admitted that having a baby was on the horizon and having a family as well as a career was very important to her. “Can’t I have it all?” She looked at me desperate to hear of course you can! But can we?

Managing an all-female business for the majority of my career, this is a topic I have observed, managed and lived myself. It is a topic that is constantly debated and depending on what publication you read, this week women can have it all, last week we couldn’t and the week before that we can as long as we don’t have more than two children! Even the box office is cashing in on the topic with Sarah Jessica Parker staring in I Just Don’t Know How She Does It. I haven’t seen the film (yet!), but I’m pretty sure it is a similar account of what I have already observed over the years.

In my opinion, yes you can have both BUT three things. One – what are your expectations? Two – how will you logistically blend the worlds of career and kids? And three – the balance will constantly change and evolve as you do; your career progresses and the children grow up.

I’ve been blending the worlds for 7 years and even this week I said to my husband I just want it all – I always have.  My first role model of being able to achieve both was my mum, who had a teaching career combined with that of a homemaker.  I didn’t see a skewed approach to either career or being a stay at home mum. What I saw was that being able to have the whole package was certainly within my reach and my control.

Wanting it all isn’t being selfish, greedy or unrealistic – it is purely an attempt to gain satisfaction from different facets of life. So having it all is certainly a challenge and not something that just happens because you want it to. It requires a planned approach, with realistic expectations combined with the right mindset and flexibility.

Quick tips to make it work:

  1. Expectations – in my experience if you think that you will be able to do the same job, the same way, with the same level of intensity, you are probably setting yourself up to fail.  The truth is that once there is a little person in your world, it becomes nearly impossible to physically operate at the same capacity.  Those 12 hours days with a networking breakfast in the morning and a client dinner that night is not only impossible to sustain, but you probably won’t have the same desire either with your thoughts elsewhere. Being realistic about what you can take on and how you manage your time becomes an essential priority.
  2.  Accept change – you will potentially see things differently after having children.  When I was pregnant with my first child, I remember my boss saying to me “don’t worry your personality won’t change, but you will become softer”.  As a driven type A personality, I couldn’t see how it would make me softer in business and I saw this as potential negative.  However, having children has made me ‘softer’ in the sense of being more aware and not so reactive to situations and people.  Children can actually help by holding up a mirror………monkey see monkey do! It’s okay to change, to see things differently and learn from experiences – it can actually assist business decisions and career plans.
  3. Support networks – juggling work life and family life in my experience means there is always one parent who is the “fallback”.  This is the person, who carries the extra load with the family when things get busy, or the kids get sick or the official childcare arrangements fall through. In an executive role in the corporate world, I do think this is extremely challenging and nearly impossible to be both.  In most circumstances, women in senior leadership roles have great partners, families, and nannies behind the scenes supporting their careers. In my case, my husband is the glue that keeps everything together even when I feel that it might all be falling apart! I certainly would not have been able to achieve what I have in the business world without this support from him.
  4. An employer who gets it – an employer who actively supports flexibility, blending of the worlds and genuinely believes it is possible, is critical to achieve success for all involved.  Just recently, a female executive went to an interview and when she asked about leaving early a couple of days per week for school pick ups, the potential employer said sure, because you’ll come back to the office straight after that won’t you? At that point, of course she knew it was never going to be match because there just wasn’t the level of understanding to make it work without it becoming a major issue.
  5. Remember me? In blending the worlds, there is little time left over for women as individuals.  The all-important time to yourself is critical to continue being able to perform at work and at home.  I learnt this lesson the hard way and wrote about it here (Health 1st, Family 2nd & Work 3rd….What’s your order?). Planning this time and booking it in like you would a business meeting is a necessary commitment.

To give yourself the best chance of “having it all”, be realistic and understand that life is going to be different.  Your priorities will change and some people will understand and support you, while others will frown upon your choices and from time to time you will feel the turmoil of “mummy guilt”.

Being a successful corporate woman with a thriving business career as well as an engaged, active and present mother is possible.  The systems, support networks and your personal approach are what make it possible to achieve in both worlds.