I recently had breakfast with a group of women, all owners of their own businesses, board members on multiple charities, active volunteers in their community, and mothers who volunteered at their children’s schools – by all standards highly successful women. These women had already found success while living in one of the poorest states in the US and were gathered for the sole purpose of launching a nonprofit to lift up other women not yet equipped to create their own success. The ladies sharing breakfast that morning were smart, creative, and driven. But there was also a commonality of three other significant traits that helped them find success.
If you are wondering what it takes to lift your own career to the next level or to find the courage to launch out on your own, you might cultivate these three traits many successful women possess.
While it might make for a more interesting stereotype, truly successful women are not usually greedy. Sure, they put in incredible hours with the purpose of building a highly profitable business, but, by and large, these women are also generous. Earlier this year at an event honoring women who had been named the most influential in our state, a reporter asked me what it meant to be influential. My response was that influence is nothing more than a tapestry of relationships where individuals have supported or helped each other in some way. Influence is a result of being generous and accessible, not something that grows from serving self.
I well remember the first time I reached out to Joanne Wilson, the author of the popular blog Gotham Gal, and a renowned angel investor who focuses much of her efforts on investing in and supporting other women. I wasn’t finding the help I needed in my own back yard and decided to be brave and ask for advice. She wrote back almost immediately, not only to share advice but with an offer to introduce me to a friend that she thought might help. She offered expecting nothing in return, likely cognizant that there wasn’t anything I could give back in exchange. Not long after, I applied to an incubator for women in mobile, and while our company was not chosen to participate, the founder, Kelly Hoey, reached out to encourage me to continue my efforts. I not only gained a deep respect and sense of gratitude because of the generosity of these successful women, I understood the value of being accessible. When I am now asked to mentor, to speak at an event, to go to coffee, I do what I can to make it happen. I take time to mastermind with other women business owners, realizing that our collective experience and knowledge is of so much greater value in growing our businesses than working in silos in the same city.
If you want be successful, learn to be generous with your time, your efforts, your knowledge. This does not mean you let others take advantage of you or that you agree to so much that you’re overwhelmed and left with no time to meet your own goals; it means you give when and where you can provide value without expecting anything in return. The interactions will likely bring more value than you realize at the time.
There was a pivotal moment I had as a woman entrepreneur that taught me the lesson of being fearless. I was sitting alone in our board room with a potential business partner. We had already met numerous times, completed due diligence, and all that was left was to negotiate terms. He knew I had my back against the wall with several looming deadlines that were dependent on outside help, and he was counting on this being my weakness. What he didn’t count on was my understanding that if I agreed to his predatory terms, I would be setting our company up for eventual failure anyway. In the end, I walked away. It was the scariest decision I’d ever made, because it wasn’t just my future but the future of every person who’d believed in my vision enough to work alongside me. Within days, we developed a solution that not only avoided a bad partnership but assured our independence moving forward.
If you want to climb higher in your career, don’t let your fear rule your decisions. Be brave, take calculated risks, learn to say no when you know you should, even if it is the scariest thing you’ve ever done.
It just doesn’t feel right. Sometimes, even when it isn’t apparent what specifically is right or wrong with an opportunity, we need to trust our intuition. When we do, we often make choices that prevent future difficulties. A fellow entrepreneur was recently weighing a partnership opportunity, worried what she would miss if she passed it up. Despite the upside, she expressed that something about it just didn’t feel right. Eventually, she followed her instinct and turned down the offer. Not long afterward, news broke that several legal problems were uncovered in the business she’d been considering for a partnership. Instead of a missed opportunity, she’d avoided serious consequences.
Intuition can also move us to leap quickly when we know it’s right. I founded my second company with my current cofounder by the end of our first lunch together. Her vision and values aligned with mine, and I knew in my gut that this was the right move. We formed the company within a day, and over a year later, I can still say it’s been one of the most rewarding decisions I’ve ever made. One of the best measures that I’ve learned to trust is this: when it’s wrong, it won’t feel right event when it looks good on the surface; when it’s right, there is joy even when the going gets hard.
Success isn’t just about moving up in your career or making money. It’s learning what you can accomplish by facing your fear, making hard choices, being generous with others, and learning to trust yourself.