Some of my first experiences with leadership began as a 14-year-old, when I started teaching martial arts classes for adults. I learned the importance of leading by example. I learned what it was to be in front of adults who were relying on me for guidance and support to grow their skills.
In my 20’s, my leadership journey further expanded after founding an organization that gave me the opportunity to not only grow and exercise leadership in ways that continually stretched me, but gave me the honor of working alongside some of the greatest, most courageous people I’d ever met in my life, from fellow scholars, small business owners, to social justice leaders, to corporate CEOs.
After really thinking about this journey of leadership, and some of the characteristics of great leaders I met along the way, it was hard not to think of surfing. The similarities are uncanny, actually. Who would have ever thought surfing could be such a window into greatness J Below are 11 great leadership qualities I have seen in action.
1. Great leaders commit to their word and follow through: In the way a surfer commits to a wave at the time of takeoff (the point where the surfer catches the wave and pops up on the board), when great leaders say they are going to do something, they actually do it. They commit to their word. When something changes on their end, they communicate it out or give advance notice. Doing what they say they will do builds absolute trust and confidence in their word.
2. They have balanced energy: Balance is at the foundation of surfing and is a quality I have observed in the greatest leaders I have met. They have a calm, balanced energy about them and are able to be fully present with you in the moment, even if they are extremely busy. They possess a balanced and inviting way of doing things. Many of them have a practice (yoga, running, meditation) or something that keeps them grounded. That energy is felt when you are with them.
3. They know when to be old skool: Great leaders are skilled in the art of relationships, and more importantly, they just know when to pick up the phone, old- skool style. They don’t send long, diary-like e-mails expressing their feelings and frustrations with a laundry list of things you did wrong or how they feel wronged. When shit goes down, they pick up the phone. They are courageous. They confront things head-on and know when a face-to-face conversation is warranted. Relationships matter to great leaders, and they know how to manage them.
4. They choose creation over victimhood: Great leaders have a creation vs. victim mentality. This means they focus on the ride – the art of carving through the wave - even if the wave is monstrous and gnarly. They are self-accountable and don’t blame others for their situation or their wipeouts. If something doesn’t go as planned, they regroup, try again, shift strategies and embrace a growth mentality, learning from the process.
5. They possess a passion for their craft: Much like a surfer, great leaders have a passion for their craft. They put the best intentions of the issue, cause or organization before their personal agendas.
6. They understand the greater powers at work: Like surfers who understand the power of the ocean, great leaders understand they are minute in the big scheme of things. They know when to be humble and lead from behind, and how to manage a healthy ego while being at the helm. They know how to use their ego selectively.
7. They are courageous: Like a big wave surfer tackling the world’s scariest waves, great leaders are courageous in their ability to confront uncomfortable situations and have those difficult conversations. They face their fears, and by standing in their power and speaking their mind, they are able to come to new understandings with those around them.
8. They are versatile: A surfer can be versatile in her ability to surf many different types of surfboards through many different types of conditions in the ocean. In the same way, great leaders tend to have broad experience in various aspects of their craft, and are versatile in what they do. Some of them may have started doing the most menial thing, but learned the ropes along the way and know what it feels like to be in the shoes of the people they are leading.
9. They respect others: As surfers learn to have a healthy respect for the ocean, great leaders operate from a baseline of respect for people, including their rivals. They are not the type who go around making up names for a colleague or boss, or talk badly about someone behind their back. They hold respect for others and know how to communicate their position, even if it is at odds with someone else’s.
10. They are able to see trends through multiple perspectives: A surfer goes through many perspectives – from assessing conditions on the beach, to being in the water taking the drop, to being in the ‘zone’, to duck diving under the wave. They are able to be in all perspectives. Great leaders are also able to be in a range of perspectives, understanding that not everyone will see something the way they do, but knowing how to cull the “trends” from varying perspectives around them.
11. They are curious: Just as surfers cross borders, curious about the next kind of wave they will encounter on the horizon, great leaders are curious. They never assume anything, and know how to approach issues from a place of curiosity. They know how to ask the right questions from this rich place of curiosity.
What are some of your observations of great leadership?
Have you ever had the experience of wondering how is it that someone else is able to bring an idea to life so quickly, while you are left feeling stuck in the routine of your life?
Do you ever start talking about your “closet dreams” – the big, bold ideas and dreams you were too shy to share with others, but that make you feel complete, happy and fulfilled? Do you notice that after talking about them, you quickly reality check yourself because you have a family, a mortgage or because you convince yourself you aren’t a risk taker?
I have news for you. 9 times out of 10, it’s not that it’s not possible. Rather, it is because of two things:
1. Our brains are wired to accept a certain status quo of a life and circumstance that has been patterned into us. The thought of changing or disrupting that status quo is thwarted by very strong neural networks. That’s the neuroscience of it, in a nutshell.
2. And secondly, everything seems too big and impossible if you think of just the big picture. You need a step-by-step plan of how to get where you want to go.
But how can you start getting around your brain’s tendency to default to its regular patterns? How can you start building new patterns to get yourself to not only see, but to believe and more importantly to FEEL what is possible with a transition or new idea? What if you stayed in the resonance of possibility, and never flipped back to the dialogue of why things are not possible?
Here are exercises in perspectives that will help you explore where you might be with a current transition or new idea, and ways to exercise your neural pathways on what’s possible.
1. Get in Touch with Your Current Perspective:
Think of where you want to transition to, or what your new idea is. How do you feel about it? Scared, frustrated, tired, like you have no way out? Give this perspective a name. If you feel scared, call it the Dracula perspective, or maybe Horror Movie perspective. Make up your own. Once you have identified that perspective, really embody it. If it’s frustration, what does it look like in your body to feel frustrated? Does your posture shift? Do you have a certain expression on your face? Do you feel it in a certain place? What does the terrain look like? Is it rainy, gloomy. dark or cloudy? Now ask yourself what is possible for you to do with respect to your problem from this perspective. What comes to you? You may or may not be surprised to see that you either generate ideas or you don’t. The point is to get in touch with how your current perspective or mind state is serving you now.
2. Try a New Perspective:
Now, try stepping into a new perspective. For example, imagine your favorite color. How does it make you feel? Calm, excited, energized, safe? If you had to embody it, what would it look like? Get in touch with how you FEEL about it. What does the terrain look like in this land of color? If your color is yellow, is it warm, sunny and hopeful? If it’s blue, is it calm, expansive and soothing? Really stand in the land of your color. Once you get to the state of truly embodying this feeling, look over at your idea or transition. Then ask yourself, “What’s possible from this perspective?” What comes out? Is it different than what came to you in your scared, frustrated or tired perspective? What do you notice? Are the ideas you are generating different?
3. Ask Yourself What You Can Do:
Explore a few more perspectives. When you get to one you really like, ask yourself this:
What is the one big step I can make from this perspective towards moving forward with my idea or transition?
See what comes to mind. You might even want to do this with a friend, spouse or family member. Have them ask you the question.
As we shift perspectives in our mind, we actually have the power to shift what is possible for us in our lives. When you shift your thinking, YOU change. And at each thought and exploration, you are patterning new neural pathways. Believe it or not, this is not wavey gravy stuff! This is actually built on science. Psychadelic, I know!
The best thing about this is you can both physically and mentally step into whatever perspective you like. If you don’t have a blue room at home, imagine one. But if you want to explore walking as a perspective, and what it feels like when you are moving and out in nature, go do that and think about your idea. See what happens.
The thing is this – you can choose the perspective you want to be in. Your actions change, and how people relate to you begins to change. Perspectives are very valuable things, and your ability to go from idea to launch of whatever it is you want to do will be directly affected by whatever perspective you CHOOSE to take. If your perspective is scared and hopeless, you’ll generate just those ideas. If it’s a cautious calm, you will generate different insights. If it’s excited, warm and happy, you may get to other insights.
So the next time you’re dreaming big, instead of defaulting to the I-could-never-do-that perspective, challenge the can’t and instead, shift the perspective.
Have you ever struggled to shift a perspective and found that when you did, you were able to see something differently? What did you learn? We’d love to hear your thoughts!
Farhana Huq is a trained, Co-Active® coach from the Coaches Training Institute (CTI). The perspectives methodology described in this article is derived from CTI's core coach training. For more information on CTI, visit: www.thecoaches.com.
It’s one thing to hold an intention for something that you really want in your life that seems unattainable; it’s another thing to actively figure out how to get it. You may not know exactly what the right path is, but each step you take, holding the intention you set for yourself, will bring you closer to where it is you want to go. Here’s how I manifested a far-off dream that I didn’t think would be possible.
Talk About Your Dream or Goal to Others
My dream was to have dual residency in San Francisco and Polynesia. I had no idea how I would do it, but I put the intention out into the world. I told my parents, my friends, the random friends I’d make on Facebook, too. Eventually, most people around me knew this is what I wanted to do.
Put It Down on Paper with Images
If you’ve read some of my brown girl surf posts, you’ll know what a big fan I am of art and of collaging. And I take my collaging pretty seriously. I only get the best quality paper and images for my collages. I really put time and thought into them.
I made a collage last year that included, among other things, pictures of Polynesia set next to the San Francisco Bay Bridge. I found a sign that read “Surfer Crossing” and carefully placed that in between the two locations, representing my dream for dual residency. Now, I was not in a very good financial position at all when I drafted this collage.; the thought of even being able to afford my very modest San Francisco Bay Area lifestyle was enough to make me stressed out, let alone even entertain the possibility of living in a place like Polynesia. But the thought now lived on my hallway wall, and I looked at it every day as I walked between my bedroom and bathroom. Think of a collage as a physical imprint of what you want to do. First, you vocalize your goal by telling people, and then you put it down on paper.
Experience an Aspect of it by Taking a Small Step to Live it
I decided that a good first step would be to take a trip to the islands and camp out in back of my friends’ home just to see what life was like on Maui. (I was broke after paying for the plane ticket, what can I say.) I wasn’t a big fan of the development in Maui, so I ended up hopping from their residence to another island where I met the wonderful parents of a friend of mine who happened to be part of the couch surfing network. So they had a lovely guest room in the back for all their visitors. Yes! And the husband happened to be a surfer, so he ended up taking me out most mornings to surf. Not only did I get to see what life was like on the island, I also got a personal orientation to all the island’s surf breaks!
While I was staying with this awesome couple, I also realized how important it would be to have a transferable skill if I ever wanted to have dual residency in Polynesia and San Francisco. It’s not like there was a big city with a ton of companies or non-profits to work for on the island. Secondly, I got introduced to some awesome places to surf, so I could experience whether I liked the vibe and the lineup, and understand how difficult the breaks were. Lastly, I met awesome people who I stay connected to up to this day. This experience served as a preview of what my realized dream of dual residency might look like, and it was a great way for me to affirm my goal.
Pay Attention to the Opportunity
When I got back to California, I decided launching my own business was the way for me to honor this lifestyle, and to honor my values of freedom, connection and independence. Eight months prior, I had closed a non-profit I founded and ran for 11 years, so I was also in a process of getting back on my feet financially. There were so many unknowns. Launching a business was scary. I wanted to be 100% ready.
I remember my good friend, Robert Chatwani, an entrepreneur and now executive at eBay, listened to my concerns. He urged me not to wait for the perfect time, or until I had the perfect website, but to create the opportunity. I did not feel 100% ready. But he made the point that we never are. Sometimes you just have to put yourself out there and do it, and figure some things out as you go. I had figured out a way to get the training I needed, built my own website, crafted some packages, and sent out a simple e-mail announcement to all my friends and family. And before I knew it, I had my first client. Did I have everything figured out? Nope. Were there bumps in the road? Yep. Did I learn from them? Absolutely.
Then, the awesome couple I stayed with back in Hawaii contacted me and asked me if I’d consider house-sitting for them for a month. I finally started to see how everything was falling into place. I’d have a free place to live, a car AND a transferable skill (coaching and consulting) that I could do remotely from Hawaii.
When I got that e-mail asking me to house-sit, I smiled to myself. Whereas before I couldn’t imagine how I was going to make this dream work, it was as if it suddenly started to become attainable. It would have never happened had I not taken the steps described above.
I accepted the house-sitting request. I had an incredible time. I know this is a viable way for me to realize my dream of dual residency without buying property I can’t afford. And it’s a way to experience what life might be like in another place without spending tons of money on a place to stay.
Here are some questions for you:
1. What’s the leap you want to take?
2. What is one thing you can do to set the intention for it?
3. To whom will you tell your intention?
4. What is one thing you will do each week or each month in service to your dream?
You may not be able to do exactly what you intend to do at the onset, but every little step you take towards your intention will indeed help you get closer to it. Even if you don’t know what the strategy is to get there, by setting a firm intention and DOING, the path will unveil itself.
In short, YOU are essential to crafting your path to what may seem unattainable. It’s not enough to just think and dream and be in your values; you have to start voicing, writing, moving, behaving and living them, no matter how small the steps you take. You have to just do it.
When have you been able to create something in your life? What key things did you learn on your journey to make it happen? Share your comments below! We’d love to know!
Human Resources. Yuck. Blehck. Blah! OMG! Who likes it? It’s wrought with conflict and legal issues. There’s no science to it. It’s hard. And for many of you solopreneurs and non-profit leaders, you don’t have staff or a department to help you navigate through human resources issues.
I really wanted to address HR in this post for a number of reasons. For one, I’ve made more than my fair share of blunders in the HR realm, including the age-old error of hiring someone I swore would work out and didn’t. Hiring and managing people was the most challenging part of my career. It was also the most rewarding and interesting to me.
As a result of my blunders, I quickly learned to read the signs that things just might not be working with particular employees. I also learned to identify that if tears were shed by staff, to discern which tears were the the result of something that wasn’t ‘fitting’ at the office, versus tears that were the result of emotions brought on by a natural growing pain, a hard lesson learned, or feelings of overwork or joy. For those of you in the position of managing or hiring people, I wanted to share with you some of the lessons I learned along the way.
Lesson # 1: Test Applicants During the Interview Process.
This may seem like a no-brainer to most, but I suppose this piece of advice is aimed at the new managers, non-profit or small business owners who are inexperienced in their hiring processes.
I remember doing interviews and checking references of the people I hired. I only sometimes gave them assignments to do as part of the interview process. When I hired them, I quickly found an issue with their competency in their said area of expertise.
In one case, someone had very poor writing skills, which were essential to her success in her position. There was no way her writing skills were going to improve significantly in the next 6 months. Had I just spent a wee bit more time giving her an impromptu assignment during the interview, perhaps her real skill and weakness would have been revealed.
This hire was a fantastic fit for the organization, but her weak writing skills came as a surprise, as she obviously had people read over her résumé and cover letters and anything she had to submit before we hired her. So when in doubt, throw in an extra assignment. See what your applicant comes up with and assess for yourself.
Lesson #2: Get a Reference from the Applicant’s Reference.
This way, the reference isn’t coming just from the person applying, who is obviously only going to share the references of people who will say the most positive things.
I remember back in 2005 when I was being vetted for a social entrepreneurship award called Ashoka. It was a 3-year process consisting of 7 interviews and multiple phone calls. I gave the organization 3 references and they would call one, and then ask that reference for another reference, and they would then call that other reference. It was pretty thorough, and I remember thinking “Wow, they really have all their i’s dotted and t’s crossed!” So, they ended up talking with people who were not on my reference form.
In my experience, some of the best hires I ever made had the best references. How I thought they would perform as an employee was often consistent with the types of references I got for each employee. Going the extra mile to get a reference from a reference can result in a more thorough assessment of the employee.
A little extra advice for dealing with recruiting firms:
I paid thousands of dollars one year to a recruiting firm and hired a person only to find out, in practice, she could not perform ANY of her duties with success. I had relied on the firm to vet her references for me, and trusted they would all pan out well. It’s always a good idea to check references yourself and to use the firm mainly to help vet and interview the candidate. Believe it or not, firms, since they are getting paid on commission for successful job placements, may sometimes skirt around issues to present their candidate in the best light just to get the person hired. So be careful, and work with a firm you can trust.
Lesson #3: Give Feedback in Real Time
I had to learn this lesson the hard way. As an inexperienced manager, I remember sometimes feeling really irked by something an employee did or said in a meeting. I would then bring it up at a check-in a few days later. Many times, the person never even remembered the incident or the remark, and I was left feeling like I was trying to rack their brains to re-live something in the past.
I learned quickly that when you notice a behavior or want to address performance or an issue with an employee, it is best to give the feedback right away. HOW you approach the conversation is equally important. Bringing your curious perspective into the conversation is always helpful, so you can state what you observed, and then ask into it by saying “I am curious about why you said this,” or “I am curious about what was behind the decision to …..” Oftentimes, you will get to the heart of the matter, and you will be able to help resolve the issue or clarify anything YOU were feeling with respect to the incident, without making your employee feel defensive. Curiosity killed the cat, but it really, really helped the manager.
A Really Cool Company Institutes Real Time Feedback Discussions:
I recently had a meeting with a fellow coaching pal, Liz Quinn, Adobe’s internal coach and principal talent management consultant at Adobe’s Learning and Development arm. I learned that the software magnate is eliminating its annual performance review process and is shifting to ongoing feedback discussions throughout the year instead. Employees and managers will now have performance check-ins where they’ll set expectations annually, give ongoing feedback throughout the year relative to those expectations, and may also have growth or development discussions. It becomes about an ongoing conversation versus a one-time “event”. This gives employees the chance to evolve with the business as needs and priorities change. Chew on that! Likey! Likey!
Lesson #4: Beware of “Growing” People into Positions When You First Hire Them.
When you need leadership, you need leadership. Trying to coach and grow someone into a leadership position is a very difficult process, especially when you have limited resources at your organization or small business to mentor, train and coach someone into leadership.
I have learned one too many times that trying to hire someone without already developed leadership skills and placing them into a leadership position, getting them a mentor, or having them work with a high-level consultant, doesn’t necessarily work. (If you have done this and it worked successfully, I really encourage you to share your experience in the comments section below! We want to learn from you, too!)
At the end of the day, our organization was trying to save money because we couldn’t afford a high salary, but hiring someone without the credentials and then paying for a high-level consultant ended up costing us more, because the employee did not perform to expectations. Moreover, it turned out that she ultimately couldn’t be coached into the leadership position by the consultant. SO, we were out thousands of dollars and out a leader.
Think carefully and weigh your options. What are the most important projects that need to get done? Who already has that leadership skill set on your team? If you can’t afford high-level salaries, can you outsource some of what needs to get done to an experienced consultant? These are all good questions to ask yourself.
Lesson #5: Bless and Release as Soon as Possible.
It’s never easy to fire an employee or a contractor. But I learned that sometimes you are not doing anyone a favor by trying to keep them on and trying to fix the problem. Oftentimes, the best thing to do is to get on a path of blessing and releasing as soon as possible. Not only do you free yourself from the burden of extra management issues, performance improvement plans and unnecessary coaching, you also do your employee or contractor a huge favor. Often, a frank conversation early on about things not working is helpful (remember Lesson #3 about giving feedback in real time?). The work may pile up while you are seeking to fill that employee’s position, but it’s worth the temporary inconvenience to find the right person for your organization.
If you are afraid of the leadership gap, you can always bring in mentors, or hire a coach for the manager left in charge, to help develop their leadership skills in the interim until a suitable replacement can be made. Oftentimes, these managers are left to pick up the work of the leader, and it can be stressful without direction or leadership. Getting your manager professional coaches or pairing him or her up with a mentor can turn the transition process into a growth opportunity instead of a crisis management situation.
Still in an HR Bind?
Create your own personal HR board of advisors. At any one time, I had about 2-3 HR professionals in my personal network whom I could call on to help me navigate through sticky situations. And, as my friend Liz from Adobe shared with me, when she worked at start-ups, having that kind of network and a personal sounding board really helped her become more confident with her ideas and actions, as she had people to bounce things off of.
Where have you fumbled in the HR realm? What have you learned along the way? Share your comments in the space below. I want to hear from you!
Secret Income Strategies When You're BROKE and BUILDING Your Business (I Mean Like Broke and Unemployed)
Losing a job or income can feel like you’re being cast into the middle of the ocean with nothing but a life preserver ring (unemployment) to keep you from completely drowning. It is unnerving and daunting for those of us used to the feeling of being rooted on land. I know all too well what this feels like.
In December of 2011, my board members and I voted to close the non-profit organization I had founded 11 years prior, due to financial difficulties and the terrible fundraising climate. We closed our doors with only 21 days notice.
Though we had a super successful 11-year run, it was incredibly sad and stressful to close. There I found myself, like so many of my fellow Americans, collecting unemployment, with only a few thousand dollars in my savings account. Not only did I feel like I was barely keeping my head above water, I had absolutely no clue as to how I was going to make money. I knew starting something and working for myself was the route I wanted to take, but I had zero money to invest in any kind of business; I would need whatever little savings I had to supplement my unemployment compensation and cover my monthly expenses.
If you find yourself wanting to start a business or non-profit with few resources, whether you just left a job, are collecting unemployment or disability or just barely making ends meet, here are some practical tips that can help you bring in a little extra income and help you gain financial momentum to move forward in your journey.
Sell the Jewelry You Don’t Wear or Need
I am NOT a jewelry wearer, but I have bought a few things here and there in my lifetime. On the rare occasion that I do wear jewelry, I usually lose part of it – an earring, a ring or a pendant. I remembered my mom saying something to me about how the price of gold had skyrocketed in the past couple of years. I had never sold anything, but was curious about whether I could get any money for the remaining pieces I had from jewelry sets - backs of earrings from my high school days, a broken gold chain, a black pearl necklace and earrings I had bought on a trip to Hawaii but never wore.
I ended up taking a little sack of miscellaneous pieces to two jewelry shops to see if they would buy them. The backs of the earrings (because they were gold) were worth money. The jeweler also bought the pearls. I walked away with over $1,000 just from getting rid of mismatched pieces of jewelry and jewelry I never wore.
The key strategy here was selling items with gold in them, as the current market value of gold has gone up so significantly. Don’t underestimate the little pieces of jewelry that are lying around your house. Take them to any gold buyer and expect to get 80% of the market price of gold.
Selling things of value can be applied to anything that is taking up unnecessary space in your home or drawers. Think about what you own that could be of value – do you REALLY need it? How is it serving you to keep it? Is it worth money? Is it something you could give up now and buy again later on in order to earn money to invest in your future today?
During my months on unemployment, I also ruptured my Achilles tendon. (It’s a long story.) So not only was I unemployed, I was unable to drive (I know - LOSING). My parents had to come from out of state to tend to me for a month because I couldn’t do much on my own. And so began my mom’s cleaning frenzy.
Not only did I get lectured on how much “stuff” I had in my closets; every day I woke up, I’d find my mom had tackled a new cabinet in the kitchen. She would pile things up and ask piercing questions like, “Do you NEED this?” I’d nod my head, and sometimes defend my favorite frying pan with all my zeal. Then she got my Dad in on it. He eventually gave me a lecture on how I needed to get rid of everything in my closet. I was annoyed, but I decided I needed to reframe quickly. So I looked at the experience as an opportunity to create space for the old to go out and the new to come in.
I got rid of all the clothes I hadn’t worn in the past 1-2 years. Luckily, living in the San Francisco Bay Area, I am surrounded by all sorts of cool consignment shops. I took my clothes to one shop and earned almost $90 just from that trip. That’s $90 more than I had before the cleaning frenzy!
I’m a firm believer in making physical space for new ideas and dreams to manifest. And have you ever heard the saying, “we are burdened by our possessions?” It couldn’t be more true. Cleaning up and consigning left me with the space I needed to create, craft and build from a clear space. Clothes are not the only things you can consign. Think about old furniture, household items, rugs, antiques, etc. What’s taking up space in your closet?
Sometimes, You Just Gotta Dip into Stocks or Mutual Funds
I know, I KNOW. This is like the anti-financial planner advice. But as an entrepreneur, sometimes you have to spend money to buy some time to make money. No risk, no reward. I remember listening to the founder of 3 Twins Ice Cream (my all-time favorite maker of chocolate ice cream in the Bay Area) tell his story about having no money when he wanted to start his ice cream company. He liquidated his retirement and took a loan from his family to start. He took a huge risk; everything was on the line for him. The ice cream is now in every major grocery store that I frequent.
During my time of transition, I also took a leap a lot of people told me not to take. I don’t have much of a retirement savings from having worked in non-profit for most of my career, but I do have some mutual funds. I made the decision to liquidate two funds to keep me afloat a little longer while I figured out what direction I wanted to take. I am so fortunate that I had some liquid investments, and while I still kept a few untouched, I felt I really needed to sell off the others for some extra money. I knew I could make the money back, and that taking the money out of my mutual funds and putting it into current investments would inevitably help me with my future more than having that money sit and grow interest. Money is energy, and sometimes having energy at your disposal NOW is way more valuable than keeping it for retirement.
Negotiate and Downsize ALL Your Bills on Fixed Expenses
Think you got a good deal on your fixed expenses like your cell phone plan, landline or car insurance? It is amazing how much you can negotiate with respect to your bills. This is how I downsized some of my expenses:
I put all of my fixed expenses into a grid and tackled them one at a time, figuring out any possibility of lowering my bills. This is an exercise I have most budding entrepreneurs do, so they can really get empowered to know what their monthly expenses are, and where they can cut, if necessary.
Ask yourself questions like:
Do I really need those extra cable channels?
Is it essential to have 1 GB of data on my cell phone vs. 2?
Also, consider these other cost-saving ideas:
Yes, this seems counterintuitive, but it’s not. One of the quickest ways to attract work and money your way is to give your services away. This builds relationships and trust and gives you an opportunity to help others. It also gives you an opportunity to really understand a business, a project or a challenge so you know better how you can be of service if you’re volunteering in an industry in which you want to work in the future.
In fact, when I started coaching, I would freely give of my time with absolutely no agenda in mind; I loved to practice my skills and witness transformative moments in the lives of the people I talked with. And slowly, the very friends I had coached for fun started recommending me to their friends, and there are always opportunities that come from these types of referrals. Putting yourself out there will lead to you being known, building relationships and perhaps taking on a project for money.
The key is to get out there and start doing work and helping. You manifest opportunity by acting as if you live in the opportunities you want to have, and at the very least, you are helping other people.
Budget, Budget, Budget!
Budgeting was something I really learned to do when I took a traveling sabbatical from my non-profit organization. My income was limited during this time, and I had to be really conscious about my spending. Toward the end of my travels, I defaulted to surviving on ramen noodles and eggs as my daily diet. I continued on the budgeting after I got home. I separated my fixed expenses from my variable expenses in an Excel grid. I kept track of every single cent that went out the door. It’s tedious at first, but it’s totally empowering. Then with my variable expenses, I had the opportunity to assign how much I WANTED to spend each month. My variable expense categories included groceries, eating out, wellness and any other categories that were meaningful to me. IT IS ESSENTIAL FOR ALL EMERGING ENTREPRENEURS TO GET A HOLD ON THEIR EXPENSES. Know where you want to go, but also know where you are. Looking after your money carefully will empower you in the long run.
Have you ever been in my shoes? Are you in my shoes right now? What are some of the secret strategies, tools and resources you used to stay afloat? I’d love to hear your practical advice from the trenches. How do you make ends meet?
Early-stage entrepreneurship can be one of the most exciting times in a business or non-profit - you get to dabble in your creativity, test, experiment and tweak. You get to build. However, it can also be a time of great frustration. You can feel like you have too many initiatives and too little time to execute them. Are you an early-stage entrepreneur who feels like she is juggling a multitude of ideas and service offerings? Does it sometimes feel like you are throwing spaghetti on the wall to see what sticks?
Here are some tips to help you get through this time of frustration, overwhelm, and seeing things fall through the cracks.
1. Identify Your Passion
When you are juggling all of your ideas and daily tasks, are you able to tune in to what aspects, services and programs give YOU and your team energy and momentum? Is it talking on the phone with your clients? Blogging about your business? Being outside, selling your products at the farmer’s market? Are you in touch with what your unique gifts are to your business or organization?
Whatever your passion may be, one of the keys to successful entrepreneurship is finding the intersection of what makes your business run and what the market needs, with what you love to do. While it’s not totally true that you need to work 80-hour weeks to be successful in your business, what will carry it forward and challenge you to work out the kinks when things go wrong, or push forward when you don’t have all the pieces, is your PASSION.
One of the greatest lessons I learned along the path of entrepreneurship was to NOT be afraid to get rid of the services or products that sucked my and my team’s energy. Instead, I learned to focus on the one or two things that I or my team felt absolutely passionate about and that we knew we could execute. Once you figure out your passion, you will see that it is so much easier to own and live up to the values of your business or organization, and to promote your business far and wide.
In the early days of the non-profit I ran, called C.E.O. Women, we gave birth to a multitude of programs; from financial literacy for women, to a computer business training program, to a 3-month entrepreneurship training program, to a coach- matching program. Holy moly! I know. I KNOW.
It was a lot for our small team to administer; we were burning the candle at both ends, and it wasn’t pretty. Awkward silences at the office became the norm, as people did not know what to do about the sheer amount of work. One day, my co-leader burst into tears when I made what I thought was a constructive criticism of her work. I had not realized that she worked several nights and weekends in a row in order to get her work done.
2. Hit the “Reset” Button
With the help of an executive coach and facilitator, we decided we needed a reset. We had built so many programs and offerings in such a short time, that our human resources capabilities couldn’t keep up with us. (This was due in part to my creative energy and my love of starting new things!) We felt like we were the jack-of- all-trades and master of none, and it didn’t make for a very productive work environment.
In a facilitated session, we ended up doing a very scary thing – we cut some of our programs. We looked at factors such as the cost to run the program, how many people benefited and the success rate of each program in a very analytical way. We inevitably decided that our bread and butter was our entrepreneurship training program. It had the deepest impact, and was central to our mission.
It’s not easy to let go of a program or service you have built from the ground up, but when you have limited resources and you are trying to achieve your mission, you have to make smarter choices.
Sometimes, cutting something out is the best decision you can make. It frees up mental space and resources for you to really make an impact with a service or offering about which you feel passionate or, frankly, for which there’s a demand.
3. Get Niche-y With It!
Through my experience with my own organization, I learned that the more specific and niche-focused you can be, the easier it will be for you to communicate with your audience and empower people to refer your services. At C.E.O. Women, we knew who we were as an organization, and instead of being pulled in a thousand different directions, we reset our focus.
Cutting some of our programs allowed us to concentrate our attention on making fewer programs better, and allowed us to focus on pursuing foundations and grantors that really resonated with our mission. It left us the mental space and energy to improve our ability to think strategically and execute services tenfold.
If your business or non-profit is going to have multiple offerings, make sure you start with one or two, and do a really good job with them first to test your market. You can use this same principal for any startup, really. The best emerging fashion designers, for instance, do not go to market with 10 designs; they focus on creating three or four really kick-ass designs for their line and then go to market.
Don’t be afraid to “niche out” your services and products. Add on where it makes sense, and don’t be afraid to cut. Cutting or downsizing ideas and initiatives may be just the re-invigoration your business or organization needs to succeed.
Where are you struggling in your business or non-profit at the moment? What do you need to take away in order to be the best you can be at delivering your product or service? I’d love to hear your thoughts below in the comments section!
Our personal journey through life defines our values. We know what we like. We know what hurts us. We know what we are afraid of. We know what gives us inspiration. This knowledge of self begins to shape our life purpose. Our deep connection to our values is the most powerful motivator there is to propel us forward to take our leaps. Trying to take a leap without clearly knowing what our values are is akin to searching for buried treasure without the treasure map; we meander aimlessly in circles wondering where it is we are going.
Two of my values have always been freedom and independence. When I was a little girl, I’d never let my mom pick my clothes out for me. I insisted on making my own lunches and was doing my own laundry by the time I was in the 4th or 5th grade. I would ask my parents repeatedly if I could move into the shed in the back of our house so I could have my own home. It was as if I was born this way – always wanting to be free and independent. Weird, I know. These values drove me to devote my entire career to helping women take the leap to feel the freedom and independence of owning their own businesses.
When I was starting the non-profit I ran for 11 years, never did it feel like it was work in the beginning. I always thought I was so lucky. It was only when the organization started to get bigger, and I faced increasingly frustrating growing pains and HR issues that I started to feel dissonance. I’d finish a week that had been filled with sometimes 20-30 meetings with volunteer groups, organizational teams, donors, funders, vendors, and then retreat up to West Marin in Northern California not wanting to speak to anyone for the whole weekend. I was exhausted.
I missed the energy of early-stage projects that allowed me to work on many different things. I missed getting deep with the people I worked with, sharing that family-like camaraderie and building really solid one-on-one relationships with my colleagues. When I ran the non-profit (which helped immigrant and refugee women to start their own businesses), I once knew each client by her first name. Years later I just knew of maybe the star entrepreneur of the class.
I realized I needed to take my own leap and found myself contemplating a new career. I eventually figured out a model for myself where I could still exercise the values of freedom and independence and be true to my entrepreneurial nature, but do so in a way that allowed me the valuable one-on-one time with people, and the ability to go deep. These values are what drove me to coaching.
Since making the decision to work deeply with people, I’m back to feeling like my work isn’t work, but just a natural extension of what I love to do. I talk with social entrepreneurs, creative people, and people with real struggles trying to take their leap. I have the honor to help guide them to realize their values and craft a path for their life to align with those values. It makes me feel energized, purposeful and alive.
This process and experience makes me realize just how important it is for you to know what you really value, else you may be taking a leap on a path that sounds good in theory, but that may compromise your values or make you feel dissonant or exhausted.
Take a temperature reading of the dissonance in your life. Do you feel any – in your relationships, at work, with respect to your health? If so, I’d challenge you to make a list of your values – not material items, but attributes and ways of being in the world that are especially important to you. Then rate each one on a scale of 1 -10 and see how much you are honoring these values in your life. 10 means you fully honor it. 1 means you have some work to do. Where do you need to honor something more? Are you not honoring one particular value at all? What’s the one big thing you need to shift within YOU to change that?
Values are our spiritual launch pad; they are our internal treasure map. When the dream we want to bring to life is in clear alignment with our values, something magical happens and the treasures of life begin to unfold. You begin to feel a natural energy and momentum which propels you toward your leap. The universe just works that way. It may be scary at first, but at some point you’ll eventually find yourself feeling like what you are doing is not work, but a natural extension of you choosing to live and exercise your values in the world. Let your quest begin!
Everybody has the tendency to sometimes complain about their circumstances or the people they are in relationship with. I once read somewhere that complaints are are just unspoken requests. But sometimes we cannot make the requests we want to make so find ourselves in the position of complaining. What we do have the power to shift is what is within us. Getting in touch with your ability to make these internal shifts will help the leaps you want to take in your wave of life to be all the more smoother.
For example, there is an important relationship in my life but I had a hard time with the way that particular person has related to me in the past. This person from time to time would start to accuse me of things and then would start to criticize me. I would feel defensive and hurt. I realized that it was holding me back in a lot of ways and making me feel bad about myself, and even eroding my self-confidence. I decided the next time she started to criticize me, that I would not react, but I would try to understand her perspective and see if I could find some value in her words and just listen. Rather than let her words land on my heart center and feel defensive, as she spoke I imagined them landing on the ground in the space in front of me. I also told myself to not take it personally.
I made the conscious decision about how I was going to react and to approach the conflict the way I would surf a wave – to just be curious, go with it and follow it. I listened and ask questions and tried to understand and clarify the source of what was making her criticize me. The process diffused the episode of this person and allowed me the space to speak my voice and share my perspective with them. In the end, I didn’t change her, but changed the WAY I chose to relate to her. It also became apparent that her episodes were more about HER feelings and the way she experienced the world vs. about me.
I learned that when you’re trying to move forward and you feel something or someone is holding you back, it’s easier to shift something within you, rather than change someone or try to change your circumstances. You have far more control over changing YOU first . This has been a critical lesson for me in leaping into the unknowns of life, not knowing what you might face. Having the muscle to flow in and out of conflict and shift your RESPONSE to what is happening will make you all the more prepared to take your leap in life, whatever it may be.
Executive & Leadership Coach | Global Explorer | Founder, Surf Life Executive Coaching & Brown Girl Surf