I am midway through my fifth year running my own leadership development consulting company, SoundLeadership. It’s been an exciting, fulfilling journey so far, and at this point it feels right to reflect on lessons learned. If you are starting up a new business line, taking on a new role, leading a new initiative or already running your own business, you may find some transferable insights below.
When starting up, surround yourself with a core group of people who support you and your vision, a small group of trusted advisors. I will be forever grateful to a key group of close family and friends who gave their input and ideas as I started up. Even when they challenged me, they never wavered in their support for me in following my own vision.
Always leverage your strengths and trust yourself. There will be many times when you will question yourself when you confront an obstacle. In those moments, going back to first principles and trusting what you know for sure will help you get through the unexpected and tough times. In my first year of business, I was encouraged and approached to respond to several RFPs. My gut told me that this was not the way for me to build my business, given the small size of my team and the opportunity not yet realized from the professional network I had worked years to build. I ended up submitting a few in the early days that took a lot of time and effort. This time spent distracted me from doing the work that would ultimately lead to growing my organization — reaching out to my network. I knew this instinctively, yet I didn’t follow my own guidance. Once I shifted back to doing what I knew was right and played to my strengths, my business grew quickly.
Pass on what you know. Once you have had some success, pay it forward. This is not a new lesson for me; it’s one that I have applied throughout my career. However, it has proven a beneficial practice for me running my own business as well. Early on, I started the SoundLeadership Circle, which is a forum for leaders to inspire leaders by sharing their leadership know-how. The leadership discussions that have taken place in the Circle have reached thousands of executives and each one has been a rewarding experience. I have also had several professionals reach out to me who have been interested in becoming an executive coach, and I have been happy to share what I know. A few of them have gone on to set up successful practices of their own. I continue to volunteer for organizations with shared values as a mentor and supporting mentoring programs. Putting some effort into thinking about paying it forward is well worth your time, and you won’t have to look far for a way you can make a difference to another up-and-coming leader.
Be open to offer new services and at the same time stick to what you do best. When I first started, I offered executive coaching, leadership assessment and consulting. My coaching practice has since developed into not only leadership training but also team coaching and leadership forums. When I began, I did not foresee the development of these service lines, but by remaining open to both client requirements and coaching trends, I was able to marshal the resources and knowledge to effectively add more value to my clientele by expanding these services. I am now also comfortable releasing opportunities that I am not best suited for and pass these on to other professionals. As much as I have benefitted from remaining open, I have also learned the value of focusing on what I do best and referring business to other professionals in areas where they are better suited to provide the best service to my clients.
Keep investing in yourself and your subject matter expertise. Even though I had a certification and several hundred hours of experience as an internal executive coach prior to launching my own business, I kept signing up for workshops and learning opportunities. I joined the International Coaching Federation and several other organizations and took advantage of what they had to offer. I am not certain I would have been as confident expanding into new service lines without adding to my knowledge base along the way. Carve out some time to keep learning — you never know where it will lead, and it helps to build personal learning agility which is critical for leaders.
There are many other lessons I have learned, and I still learn every day. I encourage you to reflect on the lessons you have learned and how they are setting you up for success, especially if you are stepping into a new role or a new venture. Lean into your strengths and remember to trust yourself and your experience.