Being an Indian woman entrepreneur showed me that the road less traveled is quite different. Entrepreneurship allows freedom from a routine, an ability to be yourself, to think outside the box and show creative ways to add value. For many, this is the road they wished they had taken. But it comes with its own drawbacks, so you need to go in fully aware of those. Like you don’t really know if you even have what it takes to succeed. And most of the time you are on your own establishing your product or offer. You also have to work twice as hard to prove you are great. And being a woman brings its own challenges – you need to prove and establish yourself and get through the old boy network in most organizations.
I was familiar with being one of the few women in technology back in my Engineering days. We had just a handful of women in a large class of 300 engineers. When it came to my MBA class, there were just 8 women in a class of 78.
So in taking on entrepreneurship, I knew I was walking onto a road that would be challenging. Being an Indian woman added another layer. People couldn’t believe I could communicate, I could lead or that technology was not alien to me. At one point in my career, I ran into a manager who later became a great mentor. One of his comments was “But you speak English really well!” I did face this stereotype and was quick to correct it.
I’ve worked with many clients from different industries over the years and remember what I learned from them. These are 10 key lessons from my consulting career that have helped me in the road to entrepreneurship. I am sharing these so others can benefit from them.
1. There is no right or wrong
There is never a right answer. Asking the right questions is more important. You will discover the extent of your ignorance and will figure out what next to ask.
2. Value failure
I value failure and I value people who openly acknowledge when they’ve been wrong. It takes guts to stand your ground and own up your mistakes. What I don’t tolerate is people who blame others without understanding what the root cause was.
3. Find your mentors
Women have a tougher time seeking mentoring and ensuring they keep this going. I always look for a strong network that I can support and I can look at for guidance. There is wisdom in seeking advice and knowing when you need help. In time I became a mentor and still have former clients, students, peers and superiors reaching out to me.
4. Don’t give up
You will hear No several times. Why does this new procedure need to be adopted? Why should the old way of doing things change because you came along? Learn to deal with resistance and how to handle the tough crowd. I have been on projects where resistance runs high. As one of my wise friends put it “bring a horse to the water, teach him how to swallow the water”. If nothing, this will help you come out ahead.
5. Be ready to change direction
There is nothing as pointless as ignoring changing business needs. Learn to deal with change.
6. Speak up
No matter what role you play, speak up, show your presence, show what you know and how you count. I’ve met women who are afraid to talk to their boss, to their key customer, tongue-tied when they are in that elevator ride with senior leaders. Don’t do that to yourself. You’ll get there if you make an effort.
7. Show your leadership
Women can make a difference by taking on more leadership roles. For your team pick what you would like to help them with and proceed to do so. A leader doesn’t wait to be asked. A leader also makes herself available.
8. Never admit fear
If you admit fear you will be setting yourself up for failure. Think positive and think the best of yourself. You can do it.
9. Build your high performing team
Build your team with all your effort and diligence. Your team will remember you for the great feelings you inspired. If you left them with harsh words and a stick-to-the-process mentality, you’ll be another face in the crowd.
10. Never look back
For me, it was the road I jumped on and decided to never look back. I got some sound advice that helped me stay on and persist. In the words of Robert Frost:
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood.
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could.
I looked down as far as I could and decided it was time to take this road. And to salute Frost, since I took the one less traveled by, it has made all the difference.
What is your learning as an entrepreneur? Share with me in the comments below.
For program management, project management or agile coaching & consulting services, please contact Rekha Narayan via LinkedIn.