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5 Tips to Become a Fearless Leaders from Top Female Executives

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Women in business generally belong to one of two leadership groups: female founders or female executives. While equity ownership may vary, these two groups both have decision-making power, scores of employees who rely on them, and have arguably paved the way for the modern woman entrepreneur.

I started my first company while still working full time at a top law firm — also a male-dominated industry. There were times that I encountered clients who only wanted to work with male associates. I had to prove the quality of my work while also not taking the rejection personally. As a result, the qualities of a driven work ethic and tough skin have transferred into my life as a serial entrepreneur.

Luckily, I have had the pleasure of meeting several top female executives along the way, who inspired me and taught me valuable lessons. Here are five tips I learned from these amazing women:

1. Don’t have a complex about being the only female in the room.

Even with the most optimistic outlook, it can be normal to have feelings of self-doubt, especially if others in the company are vocalizing concerns about you. No matter what, you have to believe in your abilities.

Elysa Walk, general manager of Giant Bicycles, enjoys the outdoors and is a recreational rider, but came to the bike industry with a master’s degree in business and no work background in the outdoor sports market. Some people at Giant initially had their doubts, and some even left the company due to her presence. Throughout the time it took for Elysa to “prove herself,” which wasn’t overnight, Elysa believed in herself and refused to acquiesce to the naysayers.

Have faith in yourself and change the tone of your work environment. If it’s hostile, only you can control how you react to the negativity and whether your attitude and performance combats others’ fears.

2. Mentor other women.

There are many tales about the cattiness of high-powered women and how difficult they can be toward one another. A New York Times article from October 2015 explores why women compete with each other. Mentoring other women isn’t just about playing nice or being politically correct — it supports a social revolution and the realization that we really aren’t in competition with each other, but more so with ourselves.

One female executive in the action sports industry told me about a great quote that stuck with her from a BMX X-Games competitor: “Willpower is a muscle.” If we start flexing that willpower each day, whether it’s getting up right when the alarm goes off or clicking “like” on a fellow female business owner’s Instagram post, we can begin the journey of empowering ourselves, supporting others and ultimately bettering female leaders in the process.

3. Be an end user. 

Be an end user of your product, especially if the market lacks in your point of view.

Karen Bliss, vice president of marketing for Advanced Sports, was a collegiate and professional bike racer before pivoting. Fuji was her first pro sponsor and she enjoyed competing in races until she decided to “get a real job” at 35 years old. It took her seven years to obtain an executive level position. She still enjoys recreational biking, and her background as a professional racer allows her first-hand knowledge of other female riders’ needs, wants and interests. Without knowing what her customer base wants, needs and experiences, she can’t possibly create and support a product that resonates with her audience. Being an end user helped her stand out and also gain credibility, not only among her peers but as a woman in the outdoor sports world.

4. Practice what you post.

We all have that one friend on social media who posts the most positive, uplifting, motivating texts and images we have ever seen. Yet in person, she is moody, disturbed and generally not a joy to be around. Why the dichotomy? We all have less than great days, but playing Jekyll and Hyde between social media and real life is detrimental to social connections.

One executive in the Las Vegas tech industry told me about how she called out a peer for always posting family and religious content. Yet in person, all she did was complain about how tiresome home life was and how she missed her single days. While there were underlying teachable moments related to workplace, home life and balance, the lack of consistency ultimately ended up affecting her colleague’s credibility among her peers. If you aren’t reliable and consistent with yourself, how can you be so within your job or to anyone else? Practice what you post and you may find that it’s for the better.

5. Make an impact while making an income.

Various companies offer community outreach opportunities, but it’s important for you to find your own path in what it means to give back.

One executive I met in the beauty hardware manufacturing industry used to be a licensed cosmetologist. She gave up cutting hair for clients long ago to focus on climbing the consulting corporate ladder. While she isn’t a licensed cosmetologist any longer, she still likes to go around her Manhattan neighborhood on Sundays and trim hair for the homeless. She finds it rewarding that, when you cut someone’s hair, they just open up and talk to you with less inhibition. Find what fills your soul, while utilizing the skills you have learned to keep you paid.

All the above methods have in common one thing: you. Keep yourself inspired, and you’ll find that you end up inspiring others in the process.

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Finding the Market for Your Technology

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We come across lots of gifted would-be founders. Some are the business-school or ex-financier type. Others have more specific expertise: product, engineering, AI or machine learning. For those with specific skills, and particularly those with deep technical aptitude in AI/ML – we often find an amazing piece of technology, new process or a proprietary algorithm that has been developed without a market to aim at.

Key takeaways:

  • Not everyone has to have gone to Harvard Business School to identify a killer use case
  • Teach yourself some basic top-down market analysis and layer on some common sense
  • The size of the market will drive who you should be looking to raise from

For all those of you who can identify with this… Forward Partners are here to help. We’re investors in Applied AI businesses. Taking technical know-how and applying it to a big use-case can seem like a daunting task. Hopefully this article can provide you with a 5 minute MBA, at least in regard to finding a market for your work. We’re going to do a ‘top-down’ investigation of a potential use-case for computer vision and, at a later stage, machine learning.

If you’ve been building, for example, technology or a set of algorithms – you’ve possibly been ‘going from the bottom up’. You’ve been applying your set of skills to a problem that you personally know a lot about. That may, or may not, be applicable for a large amount of people or a big market: the use-case. We’ll come to the importance of market size later.

Finding and validating that killer use-case will probably take some top down thinking. The best place to start is to identify industries and verticals where there are big problems yet to be solved by technology in any real way. That sounds a bit abstract but it’s fairly easy to interpolate. A good assumption as to the degree of tech substitution or advancement in a consumer market is the rate of inflation in a given category.

You can see, from this graph, that education and care are areas that are ripe for technology to come in, solve some problems and release some value. Given that 1-on-1 or in-person education is assumed to be the best way to learn for the time being, and thus hard to substitute technology into that equation meaningfully, let’s take healthcare forward.

Now it’s time to do a little bit of common sense validation. What are some possible macro-trends driving increasingly expensive health care? We all know that we are living longer and therefore there are more elderly people. Our environment is also changing, contributing to a wider range of potential health problems that we may suffer from. Knowing this, it’s a decent assumption to think that the price rises in healthcare have been driven by job creation and an increase in manual tasks. I just typed in “rise in number of healthcare workers” into Google and this next barchart is the 4th image result.

 

This is a really interesting result. We’re getting somewhere with identifying a killer use case: we’ve got a massive market and price rises likely being driven by increased employment in relatively-low skilled jobs. This is an almost perfect use-case for software.

That’s where you come in. If you’re an technical expert, you’ll know best about what is a tractable problem that you could help to solve. Talking to a nurse or medical assistant or two should reveal a couple of insights about what they spend large swathes of time on. I’d guess that you could drive huge efficiencies by helping to solve for the amount of paperwork that has to be done e.g. using computer vision to transcribe physical, handwritten records to digital. That’s no easy task. Nor is deriving insight from the data that you’ll end up with. Though these are the kind of tough problems in markets ripe for disruption that talented founders go after and that VCs love to back.

One important thing to know, regardless of what you’re working on, is that if you’d like to attract institutional funding you’re going to need to go after a big market. At Forward Partners, we need to be able to be convinced that every investment *could* return our fund. We have a £60m fund so that means that if we were to own 10% of your business we’d need to see your business have an exit value of £600m. There aren’t that many markets where that’s achievable, so that should help to narrow it down. The healthcare markets are massive and so the value that can be released by streamlining processes and improving outcomes is often well above the minimum market size bar. If you land on a slightly more niche area, this is something to bear in mind.

The final point is that, much like we’re not expecting the classic MBA-style founder to possess in-depth technical knowledge about computer vision, we’re not expecting founders with highly specific skill sets to come in and hit us with a pitch deck and business plan a la Harvard. There’s a minimum bar though, and hopefully we’ve been able to demonstrate that it’s pretty easy to overcome.

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About the Author

This article was written by Matthew Bradley, Investor at Path Forward Path Forward. The Path Forward was developed by Forward Partners, a VC platform that invests in the best ideas and brilliant people. Forward Partners devised The Path Forward to help their founders validate their ideas, build a product, achieve traction, hire a team and raise follow on funding all in the space of 12 months. The Path Forward is a fantastic startup framework for you to utilise as an early stage founder or operator. The framework clearly defines startup creation as being comprised of three steps. The first step of this framework involves understanding customer’s needs.Nic is Head of PR & communications at Forward Partners. Over the course of a 10 year career in communications, he has working with global brands including Orange, Warner Bros., BBC, and amazon.co.uk.

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Entrepreneurship

Knowing When To Quit Your Job

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Knowing how and when to quit your job is a question you will face at some point in your career.

“How do I know if it’s me or the job?” “What if the grass is always going to be greener on the other side?” “Should I wait until I have another job before I quit?” “I feel guilty quitting and am afraid of letting people down.” These are just some of the questions I get asked as a career and leadership coach.

I get it; a career shift is a very stressful life event. When I decided to quit my job at a successful public relations firm to start my own business, it was crazy hard (and scary). The uncertainty about your future can be overwhelming, and the fear can downright stop you in your tracks.

Here’s the advice I give my clients (and what worked for me) when you start considering a job change:

1. Trust your gut.

Don’t check your intuition at the door. When it comes to your career, this is the greatest tool you have. Ask yourself, what feels better or worse? What feels restrictive and what feels like freedom? Always follow what feels light and free, even if it leads you down a road less traveled.

When I quit my job to start my business, I let my intuition guide me through the process. It was hard and the outcome wasn’t exactly what I predicted, but it ended up being one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.

2. Do your research.

Do your homework by checking websites like Glassdoor.com, Salary.com and PayScale.com to see comparable salaries for your work in your zipcode. It’s important to know what the going rate is for the work you’re doing.

You’ll also want to know how the market for your services is changing. Alltop.com is an aggregator of industry related news, and a great resource for knowing the current trends in your sector.

Finally, research your potential employer or new business idea’s financial stability and market position before you leap into a new job or start a business. You’ll want to know how viable your new endeavor is.

3. Check your expectations.

Is it your attitude, your manager, your job duties, your clients or the organization as a whole? If one thing shifted, would you want to stay or go? How does one thing affect the other?

2010 research study by Harvard Business Review found that, “People fail to be realistic sometimes [and] to be self-critical, and [they therefore think] that external circumstances and environments have more to do with their frustrations or failures than their own issues.”

What can you do to shift your inner world (your mindset, belief systems and the stories you tell yourself about your work and your colleagues) that might help to shift your outer world? It’s amazing what can change when you start the change from within.

4. Talk to your network.

This is when all that networking you’ve been doing (right? right?) is going to pay off. Talk to trusted colleagues and advisers about their view of the market, your organization and the current situation. Get an honest take from an outside perspective to see the bigger picture.

Your network is your biggest asset during a career change. When I started my business, it was the difference between success and failure.

5. Hire a coach.

Good coaches work on moving you forward and getting you unstuck. They work quickly to help you identify limiting beliefs and mindsets that are standing in your way. When considering whether to change jobs and how to do it, a coach is always a wise investment.

I have hired coaches to help me navigate career changes and business development many times in my career, and it has always paid for itself.

6. Play out all scenarios.

So you think that you’ll love starting your own business way more than working as an employee in a company? Before you take the leap, have you tested the market, gotten a few clients, and run your numbers? How long can you survive on savings until you build up your business? Ask yourself these five questions before you take that leap.

If you think another industry or sector is going to make you happy (like working at a nonprofit over a for profit), talk to people in the industry before you invest in education, certifications or a major career shift. Know all the scenarios of how this could play out–time commitment for the job, potential compensation, growth potential, etc.

7. Know what’s holding you back.

If you’re miserable and want to make a change, get real with yourself. What’s holding you back? What’s standing in your way? What have you done to overcome these obstacles so far? What more help do you need? Where are the gaps in your understanding of the problem? What can you do to shift your actions, mindsets and belief systems to make a difference?

When I first started my business I was struggling to earn a decent living, but as I cleared out my limiting beliefs and changed my mindset things shifted and my business took off.

8. Understand your options.

Know what is possible for you and your professional success given the information you have available to you right now. Can you take your time looking for another job or is there a sense of urgency? Talk to recruiters in your community to see how quickly your odds are of transitioning out of your current job. For example, if you’re in a high-level position and looking to become a VP at your next position, that could take some time. Know and set realistic expectations for yourself.

9. Set goals.

What are your career goals? Where would you like to be six months from now? Three years from now? What do you value in work? Is it freedom, flexibility, money, impact on others, making a difference, respect of your peers? Set some goals.

Try this…take 10 minutes out of your day and imagine what you would want your career to look like if nothing was standing in your way. What would it look like, feel like? What would the energy in the room be like? How’s the light? Who else is there? Where are you? What are you doing? Visualize it to the fullest extent of your imagination and start tracking your career moves in that direction. What is in that visualization that you can start to express more of in your current job?

10. Give yourself time.

From the moment you decide to find a new job, to the day you land a job offer, expect the process to take six months to a year at least. Give yourself plenty of time and set realistic expectations about your timeline.

11. Be honest with yourself.

Be curious about your desires, aversions, fears and the uncertainty. Be honest with yourself, but do it with compassion and forgiveness. You only know what you know when you know it. Do the best you can with the information you have at the time and work on becoming intimately curious about yourself.

Building my business has been a catalyst for radical transformation in my life. Can you see this time as an opportunity to learn more about yourself and as an opening for self-transformation?

12. Create a plan.

If you can help it, don’t make a move without a plan. Do your research. Set goals. Identify how you will reach those goals. Talk to people you trust and spend time with people in your industry to know the trends, key players, influencers and best employers.

13. Know your strengths.

Take a Strengths Finder assessment. It costs about $15 and assesses your top five strengths. This is important because when you use your strengths at work, you’re more likely to experience flow (a state of complete immersion in an activity), and feel more satisfaction with your job as a result.

14. Work on your relationship to money.

Money is energy and your relationship to that energy can be a HUGE sticking point. Develop your relationship to money by reading books like The Soul of Money, attending money workshops, and noticing your habits, belief systems and mindsets related to money. This will help you as you plan your big career move.

It wasn’t until I started working on my relationship to money that I was actually able to open up and receive payment for my services. Thank goodness for the coach who helped me with that, otherwise I’d still be stuck.

15. Trust people to be who you’ve always known them to be.

If your boss has proven to be selfish, neglectful or money hungry then expect them to continue to be that way when you give your notice, ask for a raise, or apply for a promotion. If your boss has proven to be communicative, thoughtful, generous and kind, then expect them to be that way when you make your move.

16. Be careful telling your company you’re looking for another job.

This is a question I often get asked. “Should I tell my current employer I’m looking for another job?” And the answer is “NO.” Unless you feel guaranteed that they will not fire you or lay you off for a reason you feel confident about.

17. Turn notifications off on your LinkedIn profile.

It’s common to start updating your LinkedIn profile when you’re looking for a new job. There’s a little button on the right hand side next to your profile (editing) page that says, “Turn notifications to your network off.” Click that button to prevent your current employer and colleagues from getting notified of the changes. Of course, they could always go directly to your profile and see those changes but the likelihood of them remembering exactly what your profile photo, tagline or summary looked like previously is slim.

18. Be careful about following your passion.

There’s a lot of talk out there encouraging you to “Follow your passion!” Do not follow your passions on a whim without the assurance that you will get paid for the work you do. Unless you have a trust fund, which in that case…have at it!

And remember, your happiness at work is less tied to your passions as it is to you using your greatest strengths and talents, being surround by colleagues you like, having opportunities to grow, and using your creativity, problem solving and technical skills to make a clear impact. Also your commute matters, a lot.

19. If you want to start a business, plan carefully.

Starting a business requires that you not only be an expert in your craft, but that you also have the means, resources and knowledge to operate, market and sell your business and its services. Surround yourself with other entrepreneurs and business owners. Go to networking and professional development events aimed at small businesses and entrepreneurs to learn, connect and get resources. Do all of this (and get some clients, if you can) before you quit your job to start your own business.

When I left my job and started my company, I already had several clients, a website, a huge network of support, a coach and access to resources for whatever I needed (through my community).

20. Leap and trust.

Or forget everything I just said and throw caution to the wind. You’ll certainly fail fast and learn the hard way, but sometimes that’s just what your soul needs. I’ve leapt out into the unknown many times in my life and a net always appeared. Trust. Surrender. Leap.

What do you worry about when it comes to quitting your job and pursuing a new endeavor?

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About the Author 

Jessica J. Williams is a change agent, coach, facilitator, speaker and author whose mission is to usher the divine feminine into our way of doing work in the world. She is a transformative and sought-after leader for the empowerment of women on a global scale working with individuals, nonprofits and corporations to advance the professional development of strong, powerful female leadership.

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