Published on April 18th, 2015 | by Nancy F. Clark0
Completely Unexpected Insights From a Female CEO
By Stacy DeBroff —
I recently headed out to an industry conference and in between presentations and networking, I caught up with an old friend and respected CEO. At one point, I shared how I loved that my digital and social media consultancy had remained a “lifestyle business” – even though we continue to grow and thrive, our team spends their weekends with family and friends and pursues their passions instead of logging hours in the office. He looked stricken for me and expressed concern that I spend my time building a company culture when I could be devising a lucrative exit plan.
That conversation, along with innumerable discussions I’ve had with fellow CEOs, confirmed a suspicion I’ve fostered for a while – that when it comes to running a company, men and women take profoundly different approaches.
I’m the first to admit I never thought I would think this way. I started out in law school, where students spend three years studying hard and training to become attorneys – not male attorneys or female litigators. After I left the legal world, my career path headed off in an entirely different direction, first as a parenting author, then encompassing brand spokesperson work, which eventually led to the formation of my social media consulting firm. Now with eight years behind me as a CEO, I want to share with you five striking insights from my own entrepreneurial experience that illuminate for me the unique leadership approach and possibilities of a female CEO:
I’d Rather Bootstrap the Business Myself Than Be Beholden to Venture Capitalists
Well before I began my company, I had an opportunity to take the helm of a venture capital-backed start-up company. For me, the timing didn’t work because my kids still needed me at home, and I could not reconcile myself to the idea of answering to directives that would likely conflict with my vision and passion. Years later when I formally launched my company with my kids in high school, I held fast to my principles of taking on no debt and no investors, choosing instead to bootstrap it myself – on the cusp of a national economic collapse, no less. Not the most traditional approach to financing a business by any means, but one that makes my team and me happy every single day.
If You Build the Relationship – Business Will Come
Since the day we opened our doors, my approach to what I think of as business development (versus sales) has fallen squarely in one camp: strong, genuine relationship building. I’ve found that a warm, connective approach – built around honesty, open communications, candid strategic thinking, and a desire to roll up our sleeves with clients to solve complex challenges – garners tremendous results. It doesn’t always lead to instant sales, but that’s OK. We stay in touch with everyone we meet, connect again at conferences and events, share our honest insights, and business continues to flow into our team.
Offering Flexibility Only Gets You So Far – You Have to Embrace It In the Team DNA
The struggle for work/life balance haunts most working Moms – myself included – and my own experiences early in my career shaped my ethos on this issue, even though I knew reduced schedules would present a challenge for a company in start-up mode. We not only allow flexible work arrangements – ranging from telecommuting to part-time schedules – we embrace them because they allow us to retain talented staff. In return, we get a seasoned team of diverse professionals who remain deeply loyal and passionately committed to the success of our business.
A Little Perspective Goes a Long Way
After listening to other’s tales of CEOs who take a strident approach to solving workplace challenges, I knew I wanted a different vibe in my company. Now, I approach moments of crisis or adversity with a sanguine point of view. This enables our team to keep it in perspective, using laughter as a remedy, as well as telling ourselves, “You just can’t make this stuff up!” When we need to talk people “off the cliff” of anger or frustration, we use an approach that also works at home and that’s far more effective – listening and really hearing concerns, empathizing with the challenge at hand, articulating the frustrating feelings that so often go along with it, and taking concrete steps to make the situation right.
A Vision Beyond the Bottom Line
In our early years, I knew deep down that making a difference would prove for me just as high of an aspiration as becoming profitable. To make it a reality, we created a company vision and only accepted work that passed our “Vision Test.” Over the years, I’ve also seen how this “beyond the bottom line” approach has influenced our team. We embrace loving what we do, cultivate dreams and aspirations, and encourage passionate exploration in everything we do. In the process, we’ve truly built a “work family” where we cheer one another on, celebrate our accomplishments, and expand deeply held friendships past the workplace.
Why would I want to exit all this?
Stacy DeBroff, founder and CEO of Influence Central, is a social media strategist, attorney, and best-selling parenting author. A frequent national and international speaker, she consults with brands on consumer and social media trends. You can reach her at [email protected].