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10 tough lessons I learned as an entrepreneur

April 17, 2019 10:20 IST

Never be afraid to take decisions because you fear making mistakes. Mistakes are good, says Anu Prasad.

Lessons from my career

Photograph*: StockSnap/Pixabay.com

They say leaders are not born. They are made.

A great leader can inspire and encourage you to achieve success.

To be a good leader, you will need to take the first step, be fearless and lead by example.

Anu Prasad (pictured left below), founder-director, India Leaders for Social Sector, a Delhi-based non-profit organisation shares some of the key learnings she had in her career.

Anu Prasad1. One can have many careers in a lifetime 

As a social entrepreneur, I am in my third career shift.

From being a part of the corporate world to being a stay-at-home mom and then a social entrepreneur, my journey has been unconventional at best.

I have learned that there is no one path to success but a mix of elements that include sheer hard work.

You must be willing to start over from scratch, be open-minded to the learnings you will have along the way and be prepared to take strategic risks.

You will have to surround yourself with the right set of people and finally pursue something you enjoy and can see value in.

These must be the reasons for you to continue working towards your goal.

2. Be money wise

I once worked for a Dutch company that famously claimed to have deep pockets but short hands.

It taught me the importance of money and budgets.

Finance is a training and skill every leader must develop.

Being a non-profit founder, managing scarce resources is a major part of my responsibilities.

The extra effort I have put in to understand budget management and reporting has helped me build trust with my funder.

3. Hire for commitment, not just competency

I believe that an organisation is driven by the passion and commitment of its people.

People who share your dream and take ownership for it will be more invested in building a sound organisation and realising its full potential.

4. Culture eats strategy for breakfast 

An organisation built on trust, transparency, and collaboration among its employees is more likely to bring out the best in individuals, retain them and give them the reason to come to work every Monday morning.

As a leader, boss, manager or entrepreneur, it is important to create a culture of shared ownership.

Treat your colleagues with respect, make them feel valued.

To quote Maya Angelou, 'I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.'

Organisations that put strategy and business growth ahead of its people and culture render themselves vulnerable to decreased employee motivation, lower productivity and eventually high attrition rates.

5. Be open to change and to new possibilities 

The world is constantly evolving and one must move with the times to stay relevant and fulfilled.

Eight years ago, when I was offered a chance to build the Young India Fellowship, which preceded the setting up of Ashoka University, I grabbed the opportunity despite all the apprehensions in my mind.

Looking back, I am glad I took that decision because YIF was a journey of learning, growing, discovering new possibilities and finding an amazing network of young leaders.

6. Seek feedback but be selective

Always seek feedback from the people you trust and those that have your best interest in mind.

Feedback helps you see your work from a distance and make an objective assessment of how you’re doing.

A word of caution, though: be clear which of your friends have the best knowledge to give you feedback on the topic at hand, so that you don’t risk feedback overload.

7. Always keep the focus on the work to be done 

Petty office politics is a waste of time and breeds insecurity which can deplete the energy in a team.

Don’t encourage idle gossip and watercooler politics.

Encourage the team to be mission-focused -- and make sure you lead by example.

8. Be a continuous learner 

I am a strong believer in the idea of staying hungry and foolish for life.

That makes me constantly seek more knowledge, more ways to fulfil my potential and broaden my horizon.

I read books like they are going out of fashion.

I also seek out people I respect and admire to have conversations with, because there is always something to learn from them.

And I believe in building a continuous learning organisation by encouraging my team to seek new learning opportunities through online courses, refresher courses, etc.

9. There are lessons to be learnt in failure 

Never be afraid to take decisions because you fear making mistakes. Mistakes are good.

You learn from them and have an opportunity to become better.

In our team meetings all of us are encouraged to share some of the things that have gone wrong.

This allows us to pivot and make the required changes quickly.

Obfuscation and being defensive can be very expensive for a young organisation like ILSS.

10. Never forget to celebrate success 

I learnt this from my days at American Express.

We were the first company to migrate work into India from Australia and Asian countries.

Amex always celebrated every milestone and success, thereby recognising each employee and team as an intrinsic part of the mission.

I continue to use the learnings in my current organisation.

 Lead image published for representational purposes only.

Anu Prasad