Permission to Lead
I have heard it so many times, I could repeat it in my sleep. “Really? Yoga and nutrition? So do you have corporate clients and do workplace wellness?”
Mostly this question comes from people I meet at entrepreneur events or dinners. People with good intentions, an eye for business, and an interest in how businesses work.
I’ve learned to not take their opinions seriously, because how much can someone really know about your business after simply learning your name and line of work? Yet, when I started my holistic wellness business 4 years ago, I would go home from these events wondering: should I be pursuing corporate work? Where would my “big” clients come from? Is what I’m doing legitimate?
When women were first able to insert themselves into the workplace, it was in very defined roles. We were nurses, teachers, and secretaries. We were followers rather than leaders. We didn’t make the decisions, we just carried out someone else’s agenda.
Luckily that has changed. We’ve climbed corporate ladders and reached the top. Women are starting their own businesses and taking positions in every role that a man has held, including combat and military positions. These are huge, important milestones (and we need to keep moving into these positions!), but I would argue that we still haven’t granted ourselves permission to work and lead as women.
As women step into leadership roles, we’ve done so by learning how to imitate the stereotype of a male boss. We’ve learned how to work hard, be tough, and chase the clients with ruthless deals. Even with all of the stories and studies about how women can bring diverse, valuable traits to a team, many times we suppress those traits in order to fit in.
I’ve seen this experience play out in my business as well as friends’ businesses in the health and wellness space. For me, when I was pursuing corporate clients I was praised for my good business sense. When I don’t pursue those clients, I’m questioned about how seriously I take my business. For other friends, there’s a pressure to scale: to make a workshop into an online course, to hire a team, or create a product.
Of course, there’s nothing wrong with scaling. The world is online and you can reach more people with online courses. And products can mean valuable passive income. But the quote I come back to in every conversation I have with entrepreneur friends comes from Derek Sivers: “When you make a business, you get to make a little universe where you control all the laws.”
As women move forward in creating businesses and leading companies, I think we need to grant ourselves permission to create our own little universe. We need to grant ourselves permission to define our customers, business model, and goals in a way that resonates with us, rather than in a way that sounds good to male investors and business people.
There are some businesses that are creating their own universe in a way that highlights women’s strengths. I think of businesses like Ban.do, a company that’s “serious about fun”. I think of Tina Roth Eisenburg and Creative Mornings, a business based on a model of free events and community collaboration. I think of A Place at the Table, a pay-what-you-can restaurant in Raleigh, NC, Cherry Bombe, which is dedicated completely to women in food, and Revolution Motherhood, where Rachel Welch helps women reconnect to their bodies post-baby, and creates an employee culture that is supportive of women’s needs like newborn and child care.
These are exciting businesses creating new models and values in their business. And while there’s no problem with scaling or running a traditional business, there are some ways that you can tell whether you’re creating your little universe, or if you’re simply operating in someone else’s. Here are some questions to reflect on as you create and scale your business:
If you were guaranteed to be successful and if money or being conventional didn’t matter, what would your business and business model be?
How similar is product or revenue model similar or different to others in your field? Why is that the case?
Take an inventory of your business activities, and apply Pareto’s Law: which 20% of your actions are generating 80% of your successes? Which 20% of your business is generating 80% of your headaches? Focus in on the 20% that creates massive success and reduce 20% that creates a massive headache.
What do you bring to your business that no one else has? Is it a specific background, experience, talent, or vision? How do you utilize that unique talent/perspective in your product, service, business model, and marketing?
Often times, the more similar we look to the businesses around us, the more we are living someone else’s values and not our own. The businesses I mentioned above have decided that being different is their strength, not their weakness. By particularly focusing on the 4th question - your unique skill, background, and vision, you’ll create your own universe and be all the more successful for it. You have permission.