In a traditional corporate setting, expressing one’s unique quirks, differences, and opinions is sometimes frowned upon—or even considered a weakness. But as entrepreneurs, these perceived weaknesses are often our greatest strengths.
I have always performed well in my traditional corporate jobs. But have you ever experienced the confusing phenomenon of being really good at something that wasn't your passion? One reason that I could never completely lose myself in most of my Corporate America jobs was the nagging feeling—and painful reality—that my creativity sometimes ended up eventually being a double-edged sword.
In a classic push-pull scenario, on the one hand, people gravitated toward the results I consistently delivered and my ability to build a rapport with nearly everyone. But on the other hand, I could sense people’s disapproval when my process bumped too hard against the status quo—even if they ultimately appreciated the outcome. Here are just a few of the things that often caused me consternation in a traditional corporate setting, but have allowed me to flourish as an entrepreneur.
1. Saying what I mean, and meaning what I say. Traditional work environments often don’t know what to do with people who communicate directly. My straightforward style can sometimes take people off guard. But as a CFO, it’s become one of my hallmark strengths—my partners, customers, and staff all appreciate that they don’t have to waste time searching for the meaning behind my words … what I say is exactly what I mean. And instilling this trait into my company’s culture has helped me, too. Because my staff is empowered to think creatively and speak freely, I’ve noticed minimal drama, shorter meetings, and more cutting-edge proposals and initiatives.
2. Embracing my attention differences. Even in very stressful situations, when I am highly stimulated and focused on strategic—rather than managerial or tactical—tasks, I excel. When I used to sit in pointless meetings where no one was prepared or contributing anything meaningful—or worse, where many people were pontificating about absolutely nothing—it would be pure misery! While I’ve never been formally diagnosed with a learning difference, I find that many aspects of my preferred learning and interaction styles align with these diagnoses. And when I read in Dr. Shane Perrault's e-book, Focus, Unlocking the Secret Entrepreneurial Powers of ADHD, that “people with ADHD are 300 percent more likely to start their own business (see The DaVinci Method, by Garret Loporto)," a light went on. Whereas I used to sometimes second-guess myself for approaching work differently than most of my coworkers, now that I lead my own business, my unique work style has converted from a potential liability to a liberating work paradigm.
3. Being comfortable saying "no." The power of the word no is not to be underestimated. I can distinctly remember instances back in the day when someone asked me a yes or no question and was shocked to hear me reply no. I quickly learned that at least 50 percent of the time, people were asking my opinion as a rhetorical question, or simply to give the illusion of gathering consensus. I vowed that I would not do that when I owned my own business. So now when I mean no, I say it. And unless more words are truly beneficial, it’s a simple no. Not, “no, because…” Not, “no, I wish…” Simply, “no.” It may sound harsh, but especially because I don’t say it often, people respect that I frankly let them know when I’m resolute about a decision, as it eliminates wasteful back and forth.
I am by no means perfect, but running a company doesn’t leave me the luxury of getting tripped up over any stigma about my idiosyncrasies—especially when I’ve leveraged them to work so well for me. Every weakness can be converted into its corresponding strength, and I think it’s particularly important for small business owners to master this conversion process.
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