When I launched my first company, Impress PR Ltd, I was told that I should maybe hold off for a few years – “you’re not ready – learn a little more” they said. Regardless, I jumped; saut dans l’inconnu, and since then have never looked back.
While I’m dying the odd grey hair now and then and scouring the shelves to find the latest anti-wrinkle ‘must-have’ on a weekly basis, in the world of entrepreneurship I’m still considered young. I’m often surrounded by seasoned executives who are ten, twenty, thirty years older me. Their accomplishments and wisdom speaks to years of experience. It’s not hard to see why they often challenge my ideas and question my proposed direction.
I’m finding that, as a ‘young’ leader, not everyone will initially perceive you the same way they would a seasoned executive, even if you have just as much experience as someone older than you. But, what I am also finding are a few things; unique, concrete habits that can immediately be adopted in your life, mindset and business that can have a game-changing impact.
- Break the mould.
In a startup environment, knowing ‘too much’ can be your biggest obstacle. When you perceive yourself as an expert, it’s hard to change patterns. To break into the market and get everyone’s attention, you must completely and utterly disrupt the norm.
Most times different ways of thinking contrast directly with your experience. But you have to be open to thinking way outside the box, otherwise you’ll produce what’s already been done. The invention of something novel requires novel thinking.
In my case, I had been taught everything I knew in a PR agency environment. I then moved to an in-house environment where did absolutely everything differently to how I’d done it in an agency, I battled against a ten-strong senior team to change their crisis management strategy, their CSR policy, their communication strategy and I distinctly remember a terrifying argument with the HR director after I changed the company colours to a modern black and white for a magazine rather than the 80’s style lilac that had been used previously. Eventually, the message got through. However, if I had continued my approach in the same way for other clients having launched my PR consultancy, there would be no innovation or fresh ideas and I would have been the proud owner of ‘yet another creative agency’.
Every night before bed, I think about this question: ‘If I live every day the same way I did today, what kind of future would that create?’ It forces me to constantly re-evaluate whether or not my actions are lining up with my priorities. The future is shaped one day at a time, and it’s never as far away as we think.
- Find a balance between wisdom and inertia.
Don’t be frightened to hire people who are smarter than you so that they can challenge your ideas and point out problems with your plans. If they prove you wrong? It’s no negative – they just saved you from a potentially fatal business decision.
The people you work with should challenge you. It keeps you sharp. You shouldn’t want to work with people who are so seasoned they’re completely stuck in their ways.
- Consider everyone’s advice, but watch out for egos.
The CEO I used to work for taught me so much about being a great leader. I used to sit with him for hours talking about his experiences and then I’d go away and write his speeches for him with absolutely no amends required – partly down to the fact that I knew him so well; partly down to the fact that he trusted my talent.
Part of being a great leader is admitting you don’t know it all. If you did, you wouldn’t need the employees you lead.
Ask for advice and consider multiple options. Try to see where your team members are coming from; as you gather feedback, you can use that to make calculated decisions.
However, beware of letting egos get in the way of upward motion. Some people will waste time and energy trying to prove their point to be right, when that energy should really be focused on what’s best for the business. At the end of the day, it’s not about who knows better, it’s about the best possible route to take.
No matter their age, all entrepreneurs have one exceptional thing in common. They take a major pain point in life and do something about it. They are the pioneers who are willing to solve a problem that no one else has dared to yet.
As a young mind with much to give the world, seek to partner with people from all walks of life and indeed all ages. Respect their ideas, but never be afraid to stand up for your own.