My Top 3 Values and Lessons Learned in Business
As a leadership coach, I work every day with leaders and executives every day to help show up for both themselves and their teams to the best of their abilities.
While I am endlessly consuming leadership content, I also draw heavily from my own experiences.
In fact, part of the reason I wanted to start up specifically as a leadership coach is due to the lack of leadership support I felt in my own career.
It’s our job as leaders to raise the standards for everyone around us.
We’re the captain of the ship, directing others so that together we can accomplish all of our goals.
Today I wanted to discuss some of the TOP leadership lessons I’ve learned on my journey as well as dive into my story, so you can learn a little more about me, Akua.
How I ended up an entrepreneur
My decision to become an entrepreneur was one born out of frustration.
I was working at a high-growth startup at the time, and I didn’t feel I was getting the support I needed in order to be successful.
- I felt like I was constantly being asked to do things in a way that DIDN’T resonate with me
- I was always being asked to change the way I looked or the way I sounded
- I felt like I was having to justify and explain myself all the time
While I’ve always been interested in coaching/mentoring, I first thought I could use these skills within a structured company.
But I soon realized I no longer wanted to compromise my values or alignment in my work and life.
I decided it was time to strike out on my own and build a virtual coaching and consulting practice.
And so, Akua Nyame-Mensah LLC was born. I registered my business in both the USA and Nigeria.
At first, I never imagined myself working as an entrepreneur. I’d always tell my co-workers, “I like other people’s money”.
But now that I’m living the entrepreneurial lifestyle, I could not be happier.
A HUGE part of that is having more control over the people I’m supporting and engaging with.
I felt I needed to change
Before striking out on my own, I always felt like I needed to change.
I felt like I was either too much, or not enough.
We all have preconceived notions about who people are. We all make snap judgments and assumptions.
These assumptions influence who we decide to trust. They influence who we decide to invest in.
I used to get incredibly upset when people would make assumptions about me and the value I’m able to provide.
And while, yes, I will never be free from the judgments of others…
Things have gotten a LOT easier for me since starting my own business.
This is partially because I’m now a lot more nimble - I can quickly maneuver, shift and pivot way faster.
I don’t have an entire organization I have to think about. I only have to consider myself (and a few contractors I work with).
A huge part of my mission as a leadership coach is helping leaders overcome assumptions that do not serve them.
We make assumptions about others.
We make assumptions about ourselves.
We’re constantly taking in assumptions about ourselves FROM others - and these, in turn, affect how we see ourselves.
After years of being told I was too much or not enough, negative assumptions began to develop in my mind:
- I’m too aggressive
- How can someone like ME really work for themselves?
- I don’t sound like everyone else - I can’t be successful with this accent
- How dare I ask for this much money
- I’m too old
- I’m too young
- I should really have a Ph.D. if I want to properly support leaders
- I should be more respectful, more humble - I shouldn’t charge so much and should instead offer discounts when people ask
And on, and on, and on.
You would be shocked to hear all of the ways people told me I needed to be different in order to succeed.
It hasn’t been easy, but I’ve been able to tune out those voices. I’ve been able to choose my OWN, more empowering narratives.
My clients, supporters, and those who choose to invest in me have helped immensely.
I also believe that by deciding HOW I want to show up and defining success on my terms, I’ve developed a unique resiliency.
I no longer let others dictate how I need to sound, what my services should be, and what the investment level is to work with.
(No matter how much pushback I get).
Thinking about how far I’ve come, I want to dive into the top 3 lessons I’ve learned on my entrepreneurial journey as a leadership coach.👇🏾
(1) Build Your Awareness
As a leader, here’s what you need to remember:
The most productive and profitable thing you can do is reflect on AND get feedback about how you’re showing up.
This DOESN’T necessarily mean you need to implement their feedback or take it to heart - especially since every single person will have a different opinion on how you impact them.
BUT it’s incredibly important to create awareness.
Not only is it important to gain awareness around how others see you, but you *must* take the time to build a self-awareness habit.
One key area I help leaders build self-awareness around is time.
We often tell ourselves we don’t have the time.
We don’t have time to build resilience, to create our leadership vision, to do the things that are truly important to us.
But in reality, we lack self-awareness of what we’re allowing to take up our time.
Once we gain clarity around what is taking up our time and energy, we can begin to put boundaries around our time so that we can start doing the things we TRULY want to do.
For example, part of the reason I decided to create a virtual business was because of the awareness I gained about how much time I was spending in traffic (and I wasn't even driving).
I knew that in order to stay sane throughout my career, I simply couldn’t handle commuting and being stuck in traffic for hours each day.
Cutting traffic out of my day makes me a HAPPIER person. It’s a fact.
When I did have to sit in traffic, by the time I arrived at the office, I was grumpy, disinterested in my work, and certainly NOT bringing my best self to work.
Gaining this awareness made me EXCITED to build boundaries around my time and create a location-independent business that did not require my presence in an office.
Ask yourself the following questions to gain self-awareness around where you’re spending your time and energy:
- How does this make me feel?
- How does this work?
- Does this allow me to move forward?
Make sure you’re constantly auditing your life and business to create awareness.
(2) Stay Open
The second lesson I’ve carried with me on my journey is the importance of experimenting with and engaging with other perspectives.
We need to be both open to engaging with ourselves and others.
We also need to learn to be open when things turn out differently than expected.
I’ve had to learn how to give myself more grace, self-compassion, and forgiveness when things don’t go to plan.
We need to remember: we can’t be successful in a vacuum. We must be willing to stay flexible, try on other approaches, and embrace new paths.
(3) Re-set Expectations When Needed
In order to get to where you want to go, you need to set expectations for yourself (and your team).
Once you’ve set those expectations, you back to engaging and experimenting, as mentioned in lesson #2.
You go back to continuously building your awareness about whether or not those expectations fit.
And if in the end, you realize those expectations DON’T fit, you need to be alright with re-adjusting those expectations.
Don’t get so attached to your goals and plans that you never allow yourself to change.
Build awareness, experiment with new perspectives, and don’t be afraid to re-route when necessary.
This brings me to the biggest values I’ve cultivated during the last three years of running my business.
It can be so easy to try and outsource our values, by focusing instead on our identities.
Maybe we rely on our identity of being a leader, a CEO, a disruptor, a business owner.
We make the assumption that just because we use these labels, certain values are inherent. Not this isn’t true. Values must be internationally curated.
Here are a few that I’ve cultivated over the past three years running my business. 👇🏾
I define intentionality as knowing yourself and understanding your direction.
This doesn’t necessarily mean you know exactly where you’re going ALL of the time. You don’t have to have all of the pieces of the puzzle, but you DO need to think about what’s possible.
You’re always looking forward to where you’re headed. You may just be thinking about the next small step, about how you can get just a little bit closer to where you’re headed.
To me, growth doesn’t necessarily mean you’re constantly outgrowing people and opportunities.
It just means that you have a focus on evolving and expanding opportunities.
Growth is a muscle you need to constantly be working. You need to be willing to push yourself outside of your comfort zone.
Starting my podcast, Open Door Conversations, was a huge step in the direction of growth. It was nerve-wracking to launch, and still is nerve-wracking to record these conversations. But I pushed for it anyway, because I recognized a podcast was in line with how and where I wanted to grow my business.
The last value I have is commitment. And for me, commitment is showing up for yourself, fully taking action, and being at choice.
Some people may think that’s selfish.
But at the end of the day, I truly believe that if all of us were a little bit more selfish, it would be a lot easier for us to show up for others to create that environment that helps others succeed and grow.
We must help ourselves before trying to help others.
If you’re not feeling good about yourself and not taking care of yourself, it’s going to be hard to support others.
Again, this all comes down to the first lesson around creating awareness.
You won’t love every single part of your job, your business, your relationships, your life all the time.
But you can get clear on what’s working and what’s not, you’ll be in a better position to make decisions that lead to true fulfillment as a leader.
Not only that, but you’ll avoid reaching the point of burnout. Because burnout occurs when you feel that you don’t have the drive - you no longer like what you're doing and it no longer resonates with you.
Want to learn more about preventing burnout as a leader?