It’s been three years since I started LS International, an Executive Search business that operates in Europe, Asia and the USA. These three years have no doubt been challenging and a lot of hard work, but they have also been fun and hugely instructive. Through this article, I want to share my key learnings, which I believe are as relevant to entrepreneurship as they are to organizational careers and indeed, life.
I am a woman from a small town in the suburbs of New Orleans. I didn’t grow up in a big city, but I have always had high ambitions and set high standards for myself. To be honest, I had never thought of myself as a business owner- and certainly not in Executive Search. Now, I must admit that Executive search isn’t a profession about which you learn very much when growing up, but there’s a time in all our lives which, usually in hindsight, you recognize as a turning point. Mine was when I got into Head Hunting. It excited me more than anything else I had done before as it provided me with the opportunity to connect with people from different backgrounds. After understanding their career goals, to be able to go back to them with opportunities at some of the best companies globally was just amazing.
As I gained experience and started understanding the nuances, I realized that I was pretty good at it. At such a stage in life, to give up a job with a decent salary and take the plunge into entrepreneurship was something else. I wavered, but eventually gathered the courage because of the love and support I got from my parents, husband, friends and other members of the family. Thanks folks!
Here are six lessons that I believe have helped me and LS International get to where we are. I genuinely believe they will be relevant and useful to you as well.
Lesson 1: You must be passionate about it
Only when you are passionate about something will you be good at it. That might sound counter-intuitive, because conventional wisdom is that you start to like what you are good at. But that’s the trick. When you are passionate about something, every waking moment (and often, sleeping hours too) is spent in thinking about how you can get better at that something. In my case, it was Head Hunting. I found new ways to get in touch with executives and talk to them about the wonderful new opportunity that was just waiting for them- even when they were not really looking for a change. That’s how I honed my skills and expanded my understanding of the fascinating field of Executive Search.
Your commitment to your job will also be shaped by how passionate you are about it. The more passionate you are, the greater the difference you can make.
Lesson 2: Fear of failure is natural, but you need perseverance to overcome it
While passion is a necessary condition for success, it is not sufficient. That is to say, passion alone won’t cut it. You must be willing to work hard and learn to take it on the chin when things don’t go the way you want them to. The past three years have been anything but a bed of roses. As a young entrepreneur, I made mistakes. I was scared of making more mistakes. There were days when I felt I had erred by choosing to become an entrepreneur, and thought of getting back to a “regular job” but then I told myself: “My family trusted me to pursue my dreams… I can’t let them down”. I could not bear the thought of having to explain to my loved ones why things didn’t work out. “Failure is not an option”, I’d tell myself! It is this fear that gave me the courage, energy and forbearance to remain steadfast on the path I had chosen. Hindsight is a wonderful thing because it is after the fact. Looking back, I am so glad I persevered. At the time, certain decisions had unknown (even unknowable) consequences. I was this close to giving up. But I stuck on. Now, I realize that even if things hadn’t gone the way I expected, it would not have been the end of the world. I would have been able to bounce back. And in any case, failing isn’t as terrible as you build it up to be in your own mind; besides, the lessons you learn are invaluable.
As you grow in your job, you may be asked to take up new challenges- moving to a new division or being asked to head the business in a new country or whatever else. Fear will only paralyze you. Free yourself of the fear and unshackle your potential and watch what miracles you can create.
Lesson 3: Dare to get outside your zone of comfort and you will be surprised by how much forward movement is possible
As an entrepreneur, I was constantly navigating new waters. I did not have a large client base to begin with; neither did I have a well-known brand name. I therefore had to try different things and sometimes do things differently. Some of what I tried worked, while others did not. The simple point is that I overcame my fear of trying new things. It wasn’t that I was not nervous or uncomfortable. But I knew that I would perhaps be no worse off if things did not work- but if they did, I would achieve breakthroughs. I was able to identify new sources of value for prospects and clients- and business grew.
As part of your job, you may encounter challenges that you (or even your boss) has not encountered before. Taking the “I don’t know how to deal with this” attitude will not help you much. But what if you were to come up with some plans and seek your boss’s approval to try it? You may not succeed, but if you do, you will be seen as a leader everyone looks up to. It is this willingness to innovate and push the envelope more than one thought possible is what separates “high-potential” candidates from the rest of the pack, right?
Lesson 4: 100% love for your work creates your luck
If you want to be truly happy and successful at what you do, you must love it 100%. People can sense your love (or lack thereof). This cannot be faked. On the other hand, this love will help you innovate new ways to achieve your goals. Even when I first started selling my services, I was so sure that I could make a real difference to people’s lives and careers. This love manifested in my enthusiasm and unflagging energy. Even today, I feel blessed to have so much love for what I do because it is this that gets me out of bed every morning with a fresh resolve to be better than I was the day before. And it is this same love that my clients perceive when I interact with them. Indeed, it is perhaps not wrong to say that my clients buy my love for Executive Search because true love does not fail!
Call upon this same love to help you propel your career forward. When you love your work, you will find new and better ways to do it- isn’t that what innovation is?
Lesson 5: Help others
This probably goes without saying but I think the point needs to be made. I see so many people so consumed with their own day to day hustle that they don’t take the time to stop, look around and see what is right in front of them. You can help people in so many ways- by volunteering, cooking a meal for a friend in need, cheering someone up when they are having a bad day, giving career advice, mentoring someone or a start up. I have found so much joy in helping others and in return, I have got back so much too. I have learned more about myself (self-awareness and emotional intelligence), besides improving my skills in communication, leadership, anticipating the future and so much more. When you help others, you end up helping yourself.
This is an important lesson even if you are in a job. After all, team-work and collaboration are all about helping one another to achieve the organization’s goals, isn’t it?
Lesson 6: Never stop learning
We live in a world that’s changing so rapidly. Unless we consciously find the time to keep abreast of new developments, we cannot be effective in growing ourselves and our businesses. For example, if you do not learn about Digital Marketing, you may not appreciate the power of LinkedIn- not just as a repository of people, but as a phenomenally powerful tool to make connections and grow your business. In my line, I get to work with companies whose business models are changing. Unless I keep myself informed of these changes, I will not be able to a good job of getting them people with the right skills to manage and grow their businesses. The same applies to you, irrespective of your line of work.
Even if you are in a job, you need to keep learning so that your skills are updated and you remain relevant. In a knowledge economy, how you apply your knowledge to deal with new situations is far more important than how old you are or how many years of experience you have. Therefore, do not stop learning. Grab every opportunity to learn- whether it is a new technique or a new language or understanding of a new market or even the experience of a role that’s different from what you have done for so long. [As an Executive Search professional, take it from me that companies are always looking for talent with the willingness to apply their skills to new areas].
As I look back at three awesome years of my journey with LS International, I wish to thank all those who have played important roles- my parents, my husband, my colleagues, my business partners, my friends and not the least, all my clients who continue to repose their trust in me and LS International. I take this opportunity to rededicate myself to LS International being a proactive and productive partner in its clients’ progress over the next three years and beyond.