Today the new Congress convenes with a record number of 100 women who will be sworn in. These ground-breaking women come from different backgrounds and experiences, but they all have something in common--a driving passion for serving society and pursuing their goals.
While they have barely begun their work yet, many have already demonstrated valuable lessons on leadership and overcoming obstacles that business leaders can learn from.
Here is a look at three that stand out and how you can apply them to your business.
1. Ignore the naysayers.
A characteristic most of these women candidates share is their refusal to be overlooked and underestimated. They didn't ask for permission to run for office -- they took it.
Along the way, they also had to overcome many naysayers who felt they couldn't or shouldn't run for office, not only because of their gender, but also their color, religion, and political ideals.
For example, this new Congress includes: Ayanna Pressley, Massachusetts' first African-American woman representative, Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar, the first two Muslim women elected to Congress, and New York's Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez who identifies herself as a democratic socialist.
Despite the naysayers, they didn't let this criticism derail what they wanted to do. Follow their lead. Have a passionate business idea? Pursue it even when faced with disapproval, or a lack of role models who look, act, or think like you. Encounter a setback? Learn from it and move ahead. Confronted with criticism? Don't take it personally and stay focused.
With each business I have started, there have always been people along the way who didn't understand why I was doing what I was doing, or didn't think my business idea was a good one. Not all of my ideas have actually turned out like I'd hoped. However, without having the experience, I wouldn't be able to do what I do today.
2. Practice transparency.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the youngest person ever elected to Congress at age 29, has received praise for her transparency on social media. In particular, she is known for her informal Instagram chat about the inner workings of Congress watched by 600,000 people (while making a mac-and-cheese dinner no less).
She also has shared how the cost of health insurance as a Congresswoman is less than what she was paid as a waitress, the fact that only three members of Congress pay their interns an hourly wage, and how office spaces are chosen via a lottery. Much of this information the public was unaware of, and it showed an in-depth layer of transparency that was never there before.
As a keynote speaker, I have always received feedback from other professionals that they can't believe how much I share about my life or business that most people don't disclose, mainly for competitive reasons. One thing I have learned over time is that people can steal your ideas or copy you, but at the end of the day, they are not you. You have to do what you think is right to resonate with your customers.
The lesson here is that most people respect transparency. It builds a level of trust from workers, clients, and the public that cannot be equaled. Don't be afraid to share and be more open with your team and customers, even when it's bad news, and always have a strategy in place on how to address issues you raise. For example, Ocasio-Cortez' response to most interns not being paid was to announce that she would pay hers. It's not always easy, but you and your business will be better for it.
3. Use your bad experiences for good.
Sharice Davids made history as one of the first Native American women to serve in Congress (the other is freshman Congresswoman Deb Haaland from New Mexico), and the first openly gay elected official from Kansas.
After graduating from Cornell Law School in 2010, she traveled to South Dakota to work with an Indian reservation on community and economic development. Yet, she was denied housing because she was in a same-sex relationship. Davids has said that the experience has given her a different perspective on workplace and housing protections for LGBT people, and is something she plans to address while in office.
In my own business life, I have had people deny me opportunities based on how I look, my religion, or gender. I have learned to not let those obstacles prevent me from trying again. These experiences also make me more sensitive in my own businesses to ensure that this doesn't happen to my staff or clients.
Most people have stories about unfortunate business experiences. Don't just toss those stories aside. Use them to help forge change in yourself and how you approach your business. What can your past teach you about how you approach the present and the future?
Politicians and business people share many traits, such as pursuing passions, dealing with setbacks, and overcoming criticism. Our new Congresswomen will be able to use their experiences in these areas to sharpen their skills, broaden their thinking, and ultimately become stronger leaders. So the next time you feel discouraged in business, remind yourself of their stories when you need a heavy dose of inspiration and grit to get back in the saddle.