In the Lead: Six Women Entrepreneurs Share Their Key Lessons
November 18, 2022
In our ongoing interview series, top leaders share the most powerful lessons they’ve learned in their careers, and the advice they pass along to others who want to follow in their footsteps. Here are highlights from those conversations, and be sure to click on the links to read the full interviews.
Sheila Talton, CEO of Gray Matter Analytics
Constantly seek out opportunities to learn
“Be a lifelong learner. That means that if you don’t have the opportunities to learn where you are — where you’re doing all the teaching and not learning — then it’s time to seek out other opportunities. And you can make your own opportunities within your current company. Sometimes young people say to me that they want to get to the next level, but that they don’t have the experience. And I often tell them there is no shortage of things that need to be done. I call it “filling in the white space,” and go do it until somebody tells you to stop.
In every organization, there are things that nobody’s doing and that need to get done. That creates an opportunity for you to learn and it also creates an opportunity for exposure because you will meet people, and they will hear that you volunteered to help.”
Deryl McKissack, President and CEO of McKissack & McKissack
Define yourself and your purpose
“You have to define yourself because other people will always define you when you walk into a room. You can feel people doing that, and you can’t let that affect your mindset. It’s so painful, and it also is paralyzing, and it can throw off your focus.
Find your purpose, understand your purpose, and be clear about the three major things you’re going to do to work toward your purpose. And don’t be distracted by bad news or good news, or what’s in the feed on your phone.
When you start looking at your phone, you can experience a hundred different emotions in five minutes based on what shows up. So I just don’t even look at my phone in the morning. I just spend my time thinking about my focus for that day. What are the things that I need to accomplish? I am going to make sure that two or three things that are core to my purpose are covered that day.”
Laura Yecies, CEO & Board Member at Bone Health Technologies, ExCo Mentor
Don’t shy away from hard problems
“Seek out the hard problems – in fact, the hardest and most important problems the organization faces and solve them. Be the one that steps up to the plate when there are difficult tasks— individuals and organizations value people who don’t shy away from these tasks. This is a chance to make your mark, especially if the organization is going through a time of change. If you’re not sure what those problems are – ask”
Mahisha Dellinger, founder and CEO of CURLS
Find your tribe
“Don’t go it alone. Create your tribe. Do not try to be that rock star and go it alone and have that badge of honor. Get a good circle of people around you. Then make sure you have the resources in your circle. Do your due diligence. Don’t just launch your product because you think it’s cute to have an eyelash business. I’m sick of seeing eyelash businesses pop up every day. They’re not unique.
Figure out what you can do to be different in your category. Figure out how you can excel. Understand the market inside and out because 80 percent of new businesses will fail by Year 5, so do everything in your power to make sure you’re not part of the 80 percent. And you have to have a business plan. Failing to plan is planning to fail, so how do you know where you’re going if you don’t have a roadmap?”
Lisa Price, founder and president of Carol’s Daughter
Believe in your story. No one else can tell it
“Know that you have something to offer and recognize your responsibility that when that door opens for you, you’re holding it open for the people who are coming behind you. Believe in your story. No one else can tell your story. That is what distinguishes you from everyone else. Never get tired of telling your story.”
Leslie Bradshaw, Former President & COO of Jess3, ExCo Mentor
Find meaningful ways to try out your hypotheses
The best visionary strategists start as, and often continue to be, equally strong executors— the kind of executors who work in lean test-and-learn loops (vs. lots of up-front planning and investment before releasing the idea / project / concept into the world).
Immediate feedback and real consequences serve to de-risk faulty aspects of a strategy that might have otherwise been greenlit because of secondary research or a leader’s biases—and not evidence. By developing hypotheses and running their own ‘small batch’ experiments, the best in the game gain deep empathy and insights firsthand.
The visionary strategists who can see around corners, and what others miss, will be those who find meaningful ways to feel the earth under their feet and dirt under their nails. They aren’t just thought leaders, they are do leaders.