Carolynn is a popular speaker & thought leader in business who has coached hundreds of entrepreneurs from $0 to $5MM in annual revenue and been featured in Forbes, Wall Street Journal, New York Times, TEDx, and White House Business Council, among many others.
I remember the first time I felt inspired to consider starting a business. I was a postgraduate student at Brigham Young University, attending the Women Entrepreneurship Lecture Series. Week after week we would listen to various women founders talking about their business model and describe their experience getting started. One woman was making over $1MM / year selling welcome mats through the internet. Another was making over $1MM / year selling Halloween costumes. I thought, what’s wrong with me? These businesses aren’t rocket science. There must be something I can do.
I had been “lurking” in the entrepreneurial community for 6-12 months before that, but hadn’t really contemplated starting my own endeavor yet. I was comfortable being the 2nd in command, or part of a team of founding employees. At that time, I also felt that I had taken some risks in others’ startup ideas, and come up short. Short on career progression and short on ROI on the financial risks I’d taken. This was the right combination of motivators – frustration with lack of forward momentum, positive modeling from others who were running revenue generating businesses, and self reflection. The result was courage, and a choice to exercise confidence in myself, that I deserved and was capable of starting something. And thus my first entrepreneurial endeavor began.
Without courage, we can give in to three toxic habits: 1) passivity, 2) distraction, and 3) seeking external validation from the wrong sources. As a business leader, and especially as an entrepreneur, these can destroy the lifeblood of creativity, boldness, and forward action, which are all critical to moving forward in developing a viable business, social enterprise, nonprofit, or other entrepreneurial initiative. We must lean on courage to quell the anxieties and shifting sands of financial, professional, and personal fears and failures that are part and parcel of starting up new things. With courage, we can tell those things to go away, and stay focused on the next task, the next sales meeting, the next product iteration. With fear, we cannot avoid the pitfalls that other, less brave entrepreneurs have fallen into before us: vanity projects, misallocating our resources, failing to appropriately use the staff, advisors, and peer support around us, and delaying product launches or crucial business decisions and consequently getting stuck when things inevitably become problematic in the early stages.
Courage is the Neosporin of business cuts & wounds. It puts a healing glaze over the otherwise mentally, financially, and professionally painful mistakes we all make in developing a business enterprise. If we apply courage as quickly as we begin to feel timid about doing a task we know needs to be done, or to approach and resolve a conflict or dilemma when it’s blocking our progress, the lesions will heal more quickly and we can be on the way to building our empire. Without courage, the business lags and deals lapse, teams implode, sales fall by the wayside, and opportunities are lost. The companion to courage is confidence. Standing tall with confidence in business means that we acknowledge the presence of insecurities, anxieties, criticisms, doubts, and unfair or inaccurate beliefs we or others have about us, but we don’t give them any place or power to shake our foundation and the core assumption that we have a right to be at the table; we have something to offer that is unique & beneficial; and that our time, product, service, creativity, solutions, and intellectual contributions are worth fair market value cash compensation, or the mutually beneficial economic exchange (services, stock, control, decision-making, distribution, title, status, ownership, property, or other goods) that we are seeking in a business environment. We don’t shrink, we don’t cower, and we don’t take on stuff that doesn’t fairly belong to us. As women entrepreneurs, confidence is our intangible key to developing and maintaining a powerful personal brand, an effective leadership style, and to pursuing and securing the opportunities and progression we have the potential to earn in our career.
In addition to powering us through new experiences, increased opportunities, and progressing forward, courage and confidence help when things are going south. One of the best compliments I’ve ever had in my career, was from an employee who told me, “You’re not afraid to have the difficult conversations.” I’ve reflected on that often when I have to deal with situations, problems, staff issues, financial challenges, or other business complexities that, like any other human, I would rather a) avoid having and b) avoid dealing with. But these situations inevitably happen anyway. And I remember that I am not afraid to have the difficult conversations; I leverage the twin values of courage and confidence to face my fears, learn the facts, and address things directly.
If we’re not careful, we can lose or fail to fully realize the upside that we seek to gain by starting and growing businesses. Outcomes such as financial gains, personal development, and career opportunities can be jeopardized when we run into “solvable snafus” – cashflow dips, staffing challenges, deals falling apart, or other business challenges. Although these situations feel relentless and unsolvable, there is almost always a way forward – if we use courage and confidence. But if we back down or fail to respond effectively when things get tough, our hard work can hit a brick wall, and losses are likely. Using courage and confidence through the down times, we can get back on track and keep things moving forward.
Let me ask you something – what would you be doing today if you exercised courage and confidence in your current opportunity set? What decisions would you make, what things would you let go of, and what plans would you make for 2020? Maybe you already have a strong foundation of courage and confidence – what new plans can you make today by doubling your courage and confidence? Get a calendar, planner, scheduling tool, or app out and set something in motion: in 6 months, I will do X; by 5 years from now, I will be at Y level. Then instead of reflecting on all the barriers in the way, contemplate on the decisions you will need to make in order to achieve that goal or make it to that level. And then use your courage & confidence to get to work on it, focusing on saying yes to the decisions that take you closer to it, and no to the critics, self-doubt, and procrastinative habits that will take you farther from succeeding. Let’s prove ourselves right in our forward-moving plans, and prove ourselves (and others!) wrong as far as the doubt, the critique, and the lack of faith. Courage and confidence will take us there.
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