I was recently invited to Colorado to join a group of 50 new leaders in social enterprise for a workshop hosted by American Express and the Unreasonable Institute. This group was filled with amazing people truly committed to innovating and advancing the field of social enterprise, and I was humbled to be a part of such a great group.
The workshop was designed and administered by the Unreasonable Institute and the goal was to help all of us laser in on our mission, goals and build our personal awareness of the role we play in our respective businesses.
I felt a bit awkward at first since my business - Launch Exchange - was not necessarily offering a product or a specific service that employed disadvantaged individuals or was building sustainable products or was supporting environmental sustainability, like so many of the others in my group offered through their enterprise. Thus, on day one I was a bit uneasy, unsure if I belonged in this group surrounded by amazing people. Yet, it turns out that I was exactly where I needed to be and here are some of my lessons from the whole experience.
1. Be humble, but value yourself. I was in a room full of peers. I was humbled by the opportunity, but at the same time I was chosen to be among them. Once I got past the uncertainty of being "one of them" I found we had a lot in common and that, in fact, I had a lot of offer my peers. I found myself asking a lot of questions and answering just as many in return. We were all curious and interested in supporting one another - not once did someone question why I was there... so I stopped questioning it too. Yet, this humility helped me find the value I brought to the table and I now have a lot more perspective on how I can continue to add value in conversations which I may have initially avoided due to a lack of confidence. I think Cheryl Sandberg would be proud because I did lean all the way in and I learned quite a bit about my worth as a result.
2. You will never know everything, and that is a good thing. Often times we put so much pressure on ourselves to be a pro... best in class... perfect. It's a scam. Part of why I felt that I didn't belong in this group was because I knew I didn't know everything and for some reason I thought that to be in this group I should have all of the answers (it does sound a bit silly now that I put it out there). As I met new people and went through the workshops I started to feel secure in the fact that I didn't know nearly as much as I had hoped about my business and yet, that was a good place to be. Being a victim to the "fake it til you make it" mentality can be detrimental to the success of your business. The only one putting pressure on us to be perfect is ourselves, and once I gave myself permission to own my imperfections I finally felt secure in them. I now look at the flaws and gaps in knowledge as opportunities. Something I had been preaching to my students, clients, friends, and family for so long but never once embraced for myself.
3. Ask for help even if you don't know the question. Part of the learning process for me was definitely realizing that I didn't know what I didn't know and because of that I felt like I couldn't ask for help. Well, I broke that cycle too. I began asking people to just hear me out and tell me if they understood my problem and could offer some help. The question was just "hey can you listen to me talk until I don't make sense and then help me sort out what went wrong.." Sometimes we need to talk ourselves out of our own heads. Not only that but it allowed me to be vulnerable and own the fact that I didn't know everything. It felt good to have help, and I got better at asking for it as I felt more confident about my value and that it is ok to not have every answer.
4. It takes a village. It would be great for my ego to think that all of these epiphanies occurred because I am just awesome. However, I know that none of these realizations would have occurred without the group of people around me cheering me on without a shred of judgment. At every turn, there was someone to help me, someone to listen to me, and someone to encourage me. Without this safety net I doubt I would have opened up to embrace the experience fully. Perhaps that is not something I am used to in Detroit and is why I showed up with such unrealistic expectations of what it means to be a new leader. Needless to say, I left inspired to bring these revelations back to my community to begin providing that strength to others and being the kind of leader I now know I can be. It is important to have an infrastructure to support people irrespective of their title, experience, or network and that is something we can do better in Detroit - creating the safe space for people to be humble and vulnerable yet find their value and ask for help.
5. Look up, there are some really cool people around you. It is truly a shame that we are so focused on surviving the day and tending to our own efforts that we lose sight of our surroundings - it is a shame but a reality. If you have ever put your index finger in front of your face (very close) and focus on looking at your finger you begin to lose sight of everything else - the only thing that exists is that one finger in front of your face. But with a quick refocus everything else comes into the picture and your one finger becomes blurry. This duality is true of our perspective of our lives, work, family, etc. While we cannot necessarily change the physiological inability to see each perspective simultaneously we can certainly build in more checkpoints to allow us to step back and refocus on the big picture as well as lean in to refocus on the smaller picture. This is part of building a village and using that village to create an environment where people and businesses are supported. The first step is being able to do this in our lives regularly... if I would have retained that singular focus on the small picture I would have missed out on all of the benefits that this experience had to offer.
6. Innovation doesn't happen in the comfort zone. The best thing you can do is get uncomfortable. I have jumped into so many situations that were new and awkward for me, but I learned so much about my capacity and potential. The whole new leaders experience was another level of uncomfortable in that it forced me to face a lot of realities about myself and my business that up to that point I had been unsure of how to deal with... so of course I avoided them like any normal person! Much to my chagrin that did me few favors and so pushing myself into the uncomfortable zone forced me to evaluate my issues, understand them, and begin looking for solutions. In the process, I found that what was once uncomfortable for me to think about or talk about became much easier for me to work through. In fact, I left the conference and workshop feeling more productive than I had in a long time. I had worked out some amazing solutions to some of the biggest challenges facing my business and, not only that, but I had a renewed sense of passion to explore the possibilities of my business.
The truth is, I knew these "lessons" already. I had gone through them before. Yet, for some unexplained reason I still found myself reliving them at this conference and workshop. My personal philosophy is that we continue to have the same or similar experiences only they get more complicated as we evolve. Thus, my favorite lesson is that no matter how much you think you have mastered the challenges of running a business or living life there will always be another lesson to be had - and most will be simple, sensical, and perhaps even a bit redundant.
A big thank you to the Unreasonable Institute, the Social Enterprise Alliance, and all of my fellow new leaders!