A reflective one…
For my December article, I often write something specifically to celebrate women in business and academic leadership. This year I thought I would share an analogy in my thinking that women might most understand – many men will too.
21 years ago my brother and I started our own business, in half our garage with 2 months of living expenses and an idea. I was just under 8 months pregnant with my second daughter to add to the turmoil and was hospitalised unexpectedly for my last 5 weeks of pregnancy with a condition known as placenta previa. This is when the placenta sits underneath the baby and if a bleed starts, both mother and baby have very little chance of survival unless a hospital team is nearby and at least 3 liters of fresh blood is on ice under the bed. And so we found ourselves down to 1 month of living expenses as we started whilst driving a newborn business with a newborn baby in the house.
Raising a child is much like raising a business. It takes time to learn about the unique nature of what we have invited into our lives, how much of that journey we can influence, how much we have no control over, when to hold tight and when to let go.
Raising a business sometimes also feels like an unacknowledged task that we never quite get right no matter how hard we try. We realise during the journey that no one cares about our business as much as we do and when the going gets tough we have to find capability when there is none. My 21-year-old business is not my only business and through the journey of creating more than one business, I have learned that each business, like each child, can turn out entirely differently despite having been created with the same basic ingredients and raised with the same knowledge base and value set. And as with our children, we live in constant terror that something bad is going to happen to our business if we aren’t watching closely enough.
Luckily for most of us, there are two of us raising our children and one of the things that have made a huge difference to my experiences as a business leader is my business partnership with my brother. We are 2 very different individuals, 18 months apart in age, who found a way to establish a strongly complimentary team when the opposite could have happened just as easily – and did for the first 10 years of our relationship, as my mother will point out. No matter how badly and how well things have gone over the years, I have always felt much stronger and mentally and emotionally grounded because of the support of our partnership.
In late June this year my brother was diagnosed with a massive brain tumour -almost too late to operate. The operating surgeon who responded to the dire emergency call warned us that my brother had a small chance of making it through the operation due to the intensity of the swelling caused by the tumour. For the 7 hours that they worked on him, I contemplated the very real possibility that I would be navigating our business interests solo from that time, with no warning and no preparation – apart from the obvious financial ones. By solo I don’t mean that I would be alone – we have surrounded ourselves with the most supportive people in our businesses- I mean that my final decisions and my inner grounding would be reduced by half.
I am extremely grateful that he not only made it through the surgery but is well on his way to a full recovery – and that the tumour was benign. But those 7 hours of darkness have had a massive impact on me. When my dad died of cancer, very suddenly 7 years ago I felt the need to contribute more to my world. Once I had regained my feet after his passing I forged ahead to create EnQPractice and I wrote Path of the lion, followed shortly after that with the creation of Circles of Empowerment. With these two leadership models and the support of some incredible people, I have influenced and made a positive difference to a significant number of business leaders, academic leaders, future business leaders and corporate leaders. Once I had regained my feet after my brothers scare though, I felt deeply disconnected, displaced and just tired of it all. I realise you are thinking that these are the obvious signs of post-traumatic stress and yes, to some extent I agree. But the point I am making is that during this time, my businesses carried me through in a very special way. At the heart of this observation is coming back to terms with the reason I do what I do – why I keep creating, leading and influencing. I make a difference and that is what I am drawn to do.
Once we have sent our children into the world we don’t give up on them, we can never give up on ourselves and we should be as committed to our businesses or to the purpose of what we do. Sometimes they are torn from us completely beyond our control but we must stay grounded to pick up again when we are able. To further explain how to achieve this power of grounding I refer again to a TedTalk presentation I have referred to previously in my writing. It’s by the author of Eat Pray Love, Elizabeth Gilbert but it’s not about the book. It’s about how to stay committed to doing what we are drawn to do when dealing with massive failure, massive success and in my case a massive fright. I could never communicate this as well as Elizabeth Gilbert does in this clip.
I am drawn to create, navigate and teach from what I learn along my own journey. In our world of digital overload, with our attention so thinly stretched, where communication is so much easier and connection so much harder, I hope that I can add value to your journey. If so, I look forward to working alongside you again in 2018 and keeping you appraised with my articles and information about our training events.
If you have not seen the talk I am referring to you can find it at https://www.ted.com/talks/elizabeth_gilbert_success_failure_and_the_drive_to_keep_creating