Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, hell, even Elon Musk, when we think of business leaders and the inspirational (and downright wacky) things they’ve said over the years, it’s often the words of male entrepreneurs that spring to mind, but what about women?
Whilst we, in the business community, can be inspired by the sayings and musings of successful entrepreneurs, perhaps by hearing from different kinds of entrepreneurs, we may learn different things and gain new insights.
Whether you’re a militant feminist or indifferent to ‘the gender debate’ and all it entails, you can’t deny that by-and-large, the existence of globally recognised female business leaders is something of a new thing. So let’s amplify some of it!
And…it’s International Women’s Day: What’s the theme this year and why?
It’s a good time to be discussing great female business leaders because today marks International Women’s Day 2019.
“Balance is not a women’s issue, it’s a business issue. The race is on for the gender-balanced boardroom, a gender-balanced government, gender-balanced media coverage, a gender-balance of employees, more gender-balance in wealth, gender-balanced sports coverage.” – International Women’s Day, 2019
This year’s theme
For the rest of 2019, we are being called upon to champion #BalanceforBetter and help make equal (or ‘balanced’) social, economic and political representation between the genders a reality.
International Women’s Day is a state of mind.
International Women’s Day is not an organisation, it’s a globally shared civic day that celebrates the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women – while also marking a call to action for accelerating gender balance across the board.
So in the spirit of this non-combative approach to addressing gender inequality, women, men and all those in between, are being called upon to come together to achieve balanced representation and equal opportunities for all at work and in life.
In the spirit of International Women’s Day, quotes from female business leaders…
Because the acceleration of women as business founders and CEOs is still so recent, it makes sense that we acknowledge some of the interesting things they’ve said, as it might help us understand the struggles they’ve overcome to get to where they are today.
But as we will discover, the sayings that have sprung from the female leaders below are universally relatable to the struggles that all business leaders, great and small, male and female, experience on a daily basis.
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There are many stages to the entrepreneurial journey, from the tricky founding of a business to coping with the lonely times, and even navigating growing pains later on. Let’s look at what eight leading women in business had to say about each of them:
1. Starting a business: Female business leader, Anita Roddick Founder, The Body Shop
“Whatever you do, be different – that was the advice my mother gave to me, and I can’t think of better advice for an entrepreneur. If you’re different, you will stand out.”
Even if you think that your new product or service isn’t original, chances are that it is.
You may think your just ‘doing something well’ as opposed to creating something entirely unique, but the fact that you’re able to launch a business in the first place, and have attracted loyal customers, means you’re offering something that is different in some form.
Whether that’s a radically different kind of product or service, or simply that you’re engaging with customers in a new and exciting way, you’re offering customers something different to what they’ve experienced before, and that’s why they are engaging with you.
That key difference may even be as simple as the fact that you’re providing a refreshingly ‘good service’.
2. Getting the right mindset: Female business leader, Katia Beauchamp, Co-founder and CEO of Birchbox
“Whatever it is that you think you want to do, and whatever it is that you think stands between you and that, stop making excuses. You can do anything.”
Do you think any successful entrepreneur worth their salt got to where they are by saying that they “couldn’t” do something? True entrepreneurs male, or female, do not entertain words like “impossible”, – because nothing is.
Excuses are rooted in fear, and if you’re going to pitch your business to investors and sweet talk stakeholders, you cannot be shy or timid. To create and lead a successful business in the first place, you can’t be fearful or your idea will fail.
3. Staying value driven: Female business leader, Candice Carpenter, Founder of iVillage.com
“If you are committed to creating value and if you aren’t afraid of hard times; obstacles become utterly unimportant. A nuisance perhaps; but with no real power. The world respects creation; people will get out of your way.”
Entrepreneurialism is one hell of a rollercoaster ride. Take it from Carpenter, who founded one of the first online services networks for women that “pulled off one of the most spectacular IPOs in financial history in 1999“, and was worth $2 billion by the end of the first day of trading before it weathered rougher times later on.
There will always be tough times in business, but as long as you have identified some key ‘value’ and proof of concept for your business at the start, what is there to stop you taking it forward?
It’s just like what Katia said above, if you believe in your product or service, any fears or anxieties around that become meaningless, it’s just white noise.
4. Staying motivated: Female business leader, Sheryl Sandberg (COO, Facebook).
“Option A is not available. So let’s kick the sh** out of option B.”
Staying motivated and pushing your business forward means that you can’t just give up when one method fails.
– You need to be resourceful at all times. The key to this is patience. If an investment drive fails for example, what are you going to do? Throw in the towel and give up the business? No!
Some of the best businesses tried and failed many times before they struck gold, and you have to make sure you remain hungry for success, even if the path to it is not straightforward.
To stay motivated, ensure you tackle each setback with consideration and use your analytical skills to find a better way. Think of these moments of ‘failure’ as a litmus test to see how effective you are as a business leader.
When your business is established and successful, you’ll be the captain of the ship, (which includes your business and your team) and navigate the choppy waters that you will inevitably encounter at some point in the future.
Bad times will always come, as good times do, and as a business leader, you need to be able to help your team through both.
5. Becoming a leader: Female business leader, Anna Wintour (Editor-in-Chief, American Vogue).
“People respond well to those that are sure of what they want.”
If you’re a business founder with a clear objective and company mission, or if you’re devising a business plan to appeal to investors, being clear about what you want, or what you are looking for to make your business grow, makes you the kind of business leader people want to invest in and join as a team member.
Knowing what you want means you believe your business offers something tangible, relevant and even unique to investors, clients, and customers.
Knowing what you want signifies strength, purpose and makes you a leader worth listening to.
No one’s going to trust or support a business founder that is unsure about their product or service and doesn’t state with conviction what the purpose of their business is.
Having this purposeful attitude will inspire employees both existing and potential, to work for you.
A leader without conviction or a clearly stated passion for what they do will fail to inspire anyone.
6. Being open to learning: Female business leader, Sara Blakely Founder, Spanx.
“Don’t be intimidated by what you don’t know. That can be your greatest strength and ensure that you do things differently from everyone else.”
Starting and running a successful business is part of a process, and this process involves trial and error. No business leader is perfect, and no one knows everything they’re meant to.
Part of the fun of encountering gaps in your knowledge, and even making mistakes, is that it helps you learn and grow as a business leader.
The worst thing you can do is cover up mistakes and pretend you’re immune from them. As a business leader, clarity and transparency are all-important.
Especially if you’re managing staff, set an example of this transparent culture and own up when you make mistakes yourself. If you don’t, your junior staff may feel intimidated and cover up their own, which can lead to bigger problems later on.
Establish the fact that you and your team are on a journey together, and ensure that everyone feels comfortable enough to vocalise issues when they arise so that all can learn from them as a business – and as a team.
7. Planning for the future: Female business leader, Indra Nooyi CEO of Pepsi Co.
“If you always have one eye on some future goal, you might miss out on a better and newer course that might have opened up.”
If business leadership is about anything, it’s about ensuring a balance. As the founder or CEO, you’re meant to be the mastermind of the company’s wider strategy.
Because this concept can be abstract at times, you must be open to change at ALL times. In a business, numerous things can happen every day that might mean the path you were set on taking is no longer available to you.
This is why you must be open to changing paths frequently and be able to devise multiple strategies at any given time.
No one said that being a business leader was going to be easy. Part of the price you pay for the prestige of the title is the pressure of always having to look ahead. You must be responsive and reactive to changes and opportunities constantly.
8. Growing and nurturing a vision: Female business leader, Gail Blanke, President and CEO of Lifedesigns
“Walt Disney told his crew to ‘build the castle first’ when constructing Disney World, knowing that vision would continue to serve as motivation throughout the project. Often when people fail to achieve what they want in life, it’s because their vision isn’t strong enough.”
Whether it’s your brand image that’s important to you or a mission led company slogan, ensure that it’s conceptualised right at the start of your business and it’s lifespan.
Blanke, who was one of the youngest female senior vice presidents of Avon Products, believes that a company symbol can work as a source of motivation and pride for a team and can unite them in their common goals.
Not only this, a strong identifier will draw consumers in and make them remember your brand and what it stands for.
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