I am a relatively young woman working myself to bits with two start-ups that I am bootstrapping in the quest to go beyond limitations I feel like I can leap past. At this precise juncture, that leap sometimes feels like I am crawling, scratching and climbing the steepest of mountains. And while exhilarating, it can also be grueling. "Risking it all" has taken on a new meaning for me. I work countless hours to grow a public relations, media and branding business, etching away at my core skills to clearly define and pronounce the greatest strengths of me and my team to support the mission of our clients and distinguish ourselves from the sea of public relations agents in Washington, D.C. and Los Angeles.
Simultaneously, I am trying to monetize a purpose-driven project to which I have been dedicating my life. Ladies America is a national network of young, professional women with the goal to connect women across the country to help them advance personally and professionally, following the motto, "Women Helping Women."
I feel like I am in a constant rush to the finish line, not to finish a race, but to make this dream and creation function as a legitimate business with proven models, reliable revenue streams, strong value propositions and the best partners to attract sponsors and investors. I believe in what Ladies America is doing for the women involved in NYC, DC, LA, San Francisco, Raleigh, Pittsburgh and other cities. Together, I believe we can raise enough capital to hire a team to continue this momentum that has taken what started as a small dinner group of six people to a social movement with close to 3,000 young, professional women directly impacted by the connections, programs and opportunities provided. As the Daili Lama has been quoted as saying, "I believe the world will be changed by Western women." I believe that too.
The kicker is I am tired and sometimes my drive to succeed scares me a little as I watch my savings dwindle and try desperately to keep my first paid staff member on board, knowing that is what it will take to grow business even more.
Perhaps this is the deep dip necessary to elevate to the next level, but if I give myself enough time to think about it, it can scare me, especially to think that there is a real chance of failing.
Visualize with me the image of this current life leading two service-oriented small business ventures. Keep that picture in mind. Truly tasting and touching this allusive thing called "risk" has taught me some of the greatest lessons of my life.
I regularly make light that it seems God intends on teaching me a new life lesson everyday, and jokingly laugh that it would be nice to have even one day off. Using the phrase coined by President Obama, these are "teachable moments," and my life is filled with them.
While I am often dubbed a pristine, Southern blonde, who can be found presenting at local universities and conferences, sharing panel space with solid industry leaders from the community, inside I feel like a renegade, a warrior, a beefed-up motorcycle-riding guy wrapped in leather. I have a fierce voice of determination pounding inside of me all because I believe this work can improve the lives of many others. This determination is furthered by the constant streams of goals pouring into my head, that I not only write-down, but actively work to achieve.
And that is how I learned one of my greatest lessons. It came from a day I was working on a client project out of town, away from our team of five people, and opted to conduct our weekly staff meeting via email, meticulously outlining ideas I had for them, including goals and objectives to be accomplished that week. At the end, I decided to share with them the personal and professional goals I hoped to achieve by the end of the year. I surprised myself in doing that, but it then prompted me to ask them to share, as they felt comfortable, their goals with me. The results of this ad hoc experiment surpassed what I could have ever imagined and left me believing every supervisor, brave enough, should attempt the same.
The goals from each of team member did not come flying back at me, but rather they trickled in after gentle prompting. As they came in, I learned so much. I could see what were personal issues of which they were each dealing, providing me an insight I undoubtedly would not have known otherwise. I also saw the truly unexpected. Within their personal goals were goals...to help me. I was breathless and humbled.
During that exercise, it was no longer about business and futures; it was about human beings impacting one another's lives in profound ways. It taught me more than any secured client or signed contract. It taught me that people -- all people -- should slow down enough to ask real questions, and then listen.
"What are your goals?" As CEOs of small business and presumably even those of corporate giants, one could venture to say that question would offer valuable results and the lesson could hold true.
Leaders -- in business, philanthropy and politics -- should forge on as visionaries, but my suggestion is we all also stop to ask the goals of others. Let us ask our children, friends, clients, board members, colleagues and constituents -- "What are your goals?"
There is great risk in asking that question because it may also reveal the truth. Perhaps a manager might learn that their shining star employee truly desires to be in a different line of work. People are not always prepared for the raw truth that can come from asking others opinions or in this case -- what they really aim to achieve. A true definition of success, however, largely stems from accepting "what is."
Something for me changed over the days I received the feedback from my support team.
As authors Beverly Kaye and Julie Winkle Guilianni discovered when writing their recent book for managers, Help Them Grow or Watch Them Go, "Study after study confirms that success depends upon tapping the very best that each employee has to offer," "and when asked, the number one thing employees want from a career is to use their talents creatively."
So ask them their goals -- I dare you. ou may find what I learned, that my team was actually not just support but were invested in helping me achieve my dreams. And perhaps, asking real questions could explain why some questions are left hanging in the balance, and if answered, could take your business or initiative to the next level.