Julia Olayanju

Women In Leadership: Success Tips Every Aspiring Leader Should Know

Equality is one cause that seems to be gaining momentum today. While momentum continues to build with women in leadership, there is still a lot of work to be done.

Equality is one cause that seems to be gaining momentum today. While momentum continues to build with women in leadership, there is still a lot of work to be done. This series of articles on women in leadership is focused on driving the conversation further by sharing the strategies, struggles and stories of successful women leaders.

Courtney Nichols Gould co-founded SmartyPants Vitamins in 2011, a company that reported $54.2 million in revenue in 2017.

 Olayanju: What are simple tips that have helped you succeed in your industry? 

Gould: I have found that focusing on facts leaves little room for misinterpretation and provides the fastest path to success. Especially when facing any group of people that may underestimate you for any reason.  I remember in several of our first fundraising meetings, I received no eye contact from our potential male investors. They immediately focused on Gordon, my husband, who while critical to the business, does not run the company. So I go in knowing that I not only have to know my numbers but share up front where we are doing well and where we aren’t. Owning your weaknesses builds trust and trust is how you overcome suspicion or a lack of faith in your skillset. So does that mean I had to be more buttoned-up, probably? But did it also mean we ended up with a stronger business as a result because there would be less tolerance for weaknesses? Absolutely!

Olayanju: Describe one difficulty you faced in your career and how you overcame the challenge?

Gould: I am not a consumer package goods expert. We had zero experience in selling a product in a store environment (online or offline) . What we didn’t know was so much greater than what we did (this, of course, will always be true). We started this business with a single SKU selling online because we knew it solved a problem for a lot of people (including us). We overcame our lack of expertise by being deeply curious about the answer to the problem. Ultimately becoming obsessed with a solution: obsessed with the quality of the product and obsessed not just with its ability to solve one part of the problem but its ability to solve EVERY part of the problem. And that, in turn, drove a loyal customer base.

Gould: An important lesson that has been a key to my success: Having a sense that we all have things we need to work on. Failings in our character or in our abilities that will hold us back for different reasons at different stages of life. I am very fortunate that I was a competitive athlete growing up because it trained me to have a coach and to take feedback on where I was blind. The biggest game-changer was no longer being the center of my world and learning to be very comfortable with working on my failings so that I can be a better everything (I don’t believe in work/life balance, its all just life after all). As soon as I started getting focused on what I could do to make something, a relationship, a job, an experience better by virtue of my own contribution, life changed in every way and that includes the degree of success. An important characteristic of my success: I am competitive by nature but only when it’s hooked up to something with meaning. Give me the battle to fight for an underdog and I am unstoppable. Everyone wants (and deserves) a life filled with meaning but that is something you BRING to it and learning the difference changed my outcomes drastically.

Christine Barone is the CEO of the health-driven restaurant co-founded by Dr. Andrew Weil, True Food Kitchen. The former investment banker turned management consultant now leads a growing restaurant chain with 33 restaurants across the country.

Olayanju: What are simple tips that have helped you succeed in your industry? 

Barone: I’ve spent my career in two male-dominated industries—finance and food—and, while I wish I could share some simple tips, it really has been hard work. What has helped me is being more prepared than others in the room, spending more time thinking through the questions that might be asked, and deeply understanding the business. When I’ve had the opportunity to take on new roles in my career, I’m very thoughtful about the steep learning curve. The more senior you are, the less time you have to move from a beginner to an expert—it is critical that you over-invest early on to better understand the role, what is required for success, and how to integrate well with your team.

My other tip is to take every opportunity to learn from people in positions that you aspire to be in. I’ve been fortunate to have learned from both male and female mentors along my journey. I often volunteered for extra projects and took on extra work in order to have the opportunity to learn from other great leaders. Never stop learning—it’s one of the best things you can do to advance your career.

Olayanju: Describe one difficulty you faced in your career and how you overcame the challenge

Barone: My biggest challenge is also the most rewarding part of my life: being a mom and a CEO. Since having my first child—I now have three—it’s been an everyday challenge to balance the time spent at the office, or traveling, and the time I spend with my kids. I’ve discovered that much of being a great parent is being happy yourself. I love what I do, and I love my job. My kids can feel the joy I bring home. So perhaps if I had more time at home but wasn’t happy, I wouldn’t be the kind of mom I am. And I occasionally must remind myself of that – we can’t be too hard on ourselves.

Olayanju: If you will single out one thing that has helped you climb the ladder to success in your career, what will that be.

Barone: Being present. Sometimes we’re in such a rush to get to the next place that we forget about today. It’s important to have goals, but what will allow you to achieve them is doing a really great job today.

This article was originally published on Forbes here

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