Recently, I had the opportunity to attend a retreat for successful female entrepreneurs. I had 100 reasons not to go.
My company was onboarding a large client. Regulatory policies impacting our industry were being debated in Washington, DC. We just wrapped up a major trade show. Things were busy at home. I was tired. I didn’t have time.
As much as I wanted to decline, I went — and it was one of the best decisions I’ve made all year.
As founders and leaders, if we just keep our heads down and focus solely on getting tasks done, we miss critical opportunities for big thinking. The kind of thinking that leads to growth and transformation. The kind of thinking that can impact the trajectory of a young company. And to be honest, the kind of thinking that is necessary of leaders and founders and those of us responsible for the vision of our companies.
Here’s what I learned when I took the time to step away from the day-to-day for this retreat.
Related: 5 Priceless Lessons For First-Time Entrepreneurs
1. Lessons from outside your industry are invaluable
As startups, we are often able to bring an important outside perspective to the industries we operate in. We’re disruptors who think differently and aren’t constrained by legacy norms that can slow down innovation.
But then we grow and there is a shift that happens. Instead of bringing the outside perspective, we sometimes find ourselves needing an outside perspective. That’s why it’s critical to spend time developing important relationships with peers outside of our sector.
Other innovators will look at a problem (and solution) with fresh eyes and help ground us in the innovator role we built our company on. We can learn from the experiences they’ve had, even if we serve different industries.
And, when called upon, we should return the favor when peers from different industries come to us to help get them unstuck.
2. Curiosity is contagious (and beneficial)
At Veda, we have always strived to create a culture of curiosity — but in the day-to-day, it’s sometimes challenging to stop and ask questions, listen to others and honestly just take time to learn.
One of the gifts of the retreat I was on was that it reminded me how important learning is. Yes, I learned a lot while I was there, but more importantly, I learned how much I need to learn.
Since returning, I’ve already doubled down on our culture of learning and have committed to regular lunch-and-learns in the office and ensuring that the whole team has time to experiment with new technologies — true learning for the sake of learning. I am confident it will be time well spent and the team and company will benefit as a result.
Related: 25 Daily Practices that Executives Credit for Continuous Self-Growth
3. Open peer-to-peer exchange is especially important for female founders
Female founders often face gender-based stereotypes and biases that can impact their entrepreneurial journey.
Sometimes this manifests itself in our male counterparts responding to our ideas from a place of bias — maybe intentional, maybe not. But there is a filter through which our ideas are considered that can impact their adoption.
The opportunity to engage with other female founders provides the opportunity to kick the tires on ideas that aren’t seen through a gendered lens.
4. When your head’s down, you miss what’s on the horizon
When we’re not looking up, we end up simply iterating in the same space that we already occupy instead of opening up to broader, bigger thinking.
My co-founder likes to say that those incremental ideas are simply “putting more horses on the same wagon when what we need to build is a train.” We need to be thinking multiple steps ahead of where we are today and that comes from opening our minds and imagination to conceive of what’s next.
5. When you’re too busy doing, you’re not leading
As founders, it’s critical that we inspire confidence, build trust and foster collaboration. With teams, boards, investors and customers. To do that we need to take time for self-reflection and big thinking. This introspection contributes to the development of a strong, authentic leadership presence that resonates with colleagues, peers and other stakeholders.
An effective leader recognizes strategic thinking isn’t done for three days a year at an offsite leadership meeting. Strategic thinking is an ongoing process that we need to make time for throughout the year. This is as true for senior leaders of major corporations as it is for entrepreneurs eyeing their next fundraising round or bringing a product to market.
Related: 3 Ways to Build a Strong Female Entrepreneurial and Investment Ecosystem
The commitment I’m making to myself and my colleagues, customers and investors this year is to make the time and space. It means figuring out what tasks I should be delegating or even ceasing altogether. I’m also committed to building, fostering and leveraging my network of peers for accountability.
Like you, I have big goals for my company and know that getting lost in the minutiae won’t get me there. Taking time away for personal and professional development ensures that I remember to look up.
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