Recently I was asked to speak to the Fuquay-Varina Chamber of Commerce Young Professional's Group, the YP's. This OP had a great time sharing stories and fielding questions about what it means to be "in the trenches" as a woman business owner. Here's a summary of what I shared.
It’s 1969, I’m in first grade and my teacher is absent. Our substitute left the room, back in the day we did not worry about being unsupervised, and one of my classmates was ready for the next worksheet in our series. I knew where the teacher kept the worksheets, so I went over to the storage cabinet, pulled out a stack, gave one to my classmate and placed the rest on the counter. When the substitute teacher came back to the room, I proudly shared how I’d solved the issue. Instead of praise, I found myself doing 100 squats in the corner of the room for pulling the worksheets from the cabinet without permission. Yep, I’ve been a rule breaker since way back.
Why is someone a rule breaker?
A desire to carve a new path
Lack of clarity to rules?
No “buy in” to the established rules?
Probably all the above
I challenge rules for the love of a new idea and poor leadership, but mostly because of learned behavior.
Where does one learn behavior?
I’m no physiologist, but longevity in life, parenting and multiple careers has taught me that “monkey see, monkey do” overrides verbal instruction every time.
In my formative years:
My grandmother divorced her husband, got a job and split logs to heat the wood stove.
My dad encouraged me ask our minister why we had no women deacons, yet plenty of women leaders in the bible.
My first student- teacher mentor showed me that it was easier to beg for forgiveness than ask permission.
How will breaking rule contribute to success? As an educator I was surrounded by leaders. Teachers are the captain of their own classroom who are guided by administrators. I’d like to say that environment always fostered innovation, cultivated consensus building and rewarded questioning the norm; but not consistently. Leaders I admired:
Made it safe to make mistakes
Encouraged new ideas without scorn
Sought input from the team before determining the course of action
Leaders that were not threatened by their team, inspired my loyalty.
In 2007 my husband and I opened the doors to our business Promotional Partners Inc. While my husband has been accomplished in his field and our bread winner, this time he wanted to push me forward. I became majority owner, he filed for our NC HUB Status and I became a woman business owner.
I had no marketing degree, but sales experience; check
I’d been an artist and an art teacher, creativity; check
Problem solver- yep, remember those worksheets; check
Educator-Presenter- 20 years teaching; check
Life being the sum of ones’ experiences; check
A career rule breaker; check
What did I do to break my norm?
Redefine my life as an owner- a new leadership role
Embraced marketing education
Applied my creativity to innovative business and sales strategies
Earned a CAS (certified advertising specialist) certification in my industry- marketing degree, now: check
Engaged the business community; join a chamber of commerce!
Sure, I joined a chamber of commerce to find prospects, but I formed relationships via my service and incorporated the best practices I learned from serving with others- monkey see, monkey do
We are a small company, only 5 employees and rotating interns. Our office is set up in a contemporary fashion, no cubicles; an open format. It’s open not by design, rather by the constraints of our physical space. However, what I found was working close proximity invites a transparent atmosphere; which is probably why larger companies are embracing that model. Think about it, walls offer privacy, but they also keep us in our own world. Removing walls allows us to see, hear and experience what our team experiences; we are starting from a shared perspective when tackling team challenges. "Close quarters" also provide us access to more information, see all experience operational issues in real time, we hear and see the frustrations of our team members, our proximity allows for quickly interjecting a comment or sharing a needed laugh.
As a one who likes to push boundaries, I’ve found that close quarters create an environment that:
Invites feedback from your team
Makes business obstacles a shared challenge
Defines what’s needed for growth or changing operational systems or client management
I’ve also learned that an effective leader must paint the picture for the team, reward initiative in the workplace, make it safe to ask questions or fail, share their own vulnerabilities with the team and project their vision from 30,000 feet; accountability and ownership will naturally occur. Being an entrepreneur is more than owning a business, it’s creating your own mission and supporting the systems that support your team. Your team in turn helps guide, amplify and project the “why” behind your company to your target markets. Developing an entrepreneurial mindset is a “monkey see, monkey do” proposition. Making it safe to breaking the rules allows team members to contribute their talents and voice rather than becoming disengaged, desperate and doubtful.
Ready to break some rules?!
I love that bird!