Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Women Leaders Achieve Childhood Dreams

The Minneapolis / St. Paul Business Journal recently published its annual Women in Business award list, highlighting 51 women business leaders in the Twin Cities.  I like reading this edition each year, and others like it, because I like to learn about successful people and how they got to where they are.  The publication includes a short bio on each of the women honorees, followed by a sampling of their answers to a set of survey questions, one of which was: “When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?”  

There were a lot of interesting responses to that question, but one of the things that struck me was the number of women who are doing today exactly what they wanted to be doing when they grew up.  For example, Sarah Caruso, President and CEO of the Greater Twin Cities United Way, wanted to be a leader and business person.  Dr. Lisa Tseng, CEO of hi HealthInnovations, wanted to be a doctor and CEO.  Jackie Schneider, Vice President of sales and customer service at Proto Labs, wanted to be a sales person.  Lisa Peck, owner and principal designer of LiLu Interiors wanted to be an interior designer who ran her own business.

There are several others who are doing exactly what they wanted to be doing when they were kids, or something similar to it.  Of course, there are others who are doing quite well even though they haven’t lived out their childhood dreams (at least not yet).  Included in that group are those who wanted to be a large animal veterinarian, an FBI Agent, a Rockette, Annette Funicello, an Olympic equestrian and President of the United States.

I found all of this quite impressive, especially since I can’t really remember what it is that I wanted to be when I grew up (or, for that matter, what I want to be when I grow up).  If I had a childhood dream, it probably was being second baseman for the Minnesota Twins or quarterback for the Minnesota Vikings (dreams that I assure you died out long before I got out of middle school).

Knowing that my career today has very little to do with any childhood aspirations, I wondered why so many of these women were able to live out dreams they had as kids.  Without knowing any of them, it’s hard to speculate, but I can probably assume that they are all exceptionally bright, goal-oriented, determined and driven.  It would certainly be hard to accomplish all that they have without those characteristics.  Beyond that though, they all must also possess a certain degree of passion for what they do.  I can’t imagine that one can pursue a lifelong goal without having a lot of passion for that goal.  

That reminded me of the role that passion plays for successful entrepreneurs.  Entrepreneurs who are passionate about their businesses are far more engaging and persuasive than those who are not.  It takes a lot more than passion to succeed as an entrepreneur, including a good business concept, strong team, perseverance, luck, etc., but without passion for your business, I think it’s very challenging for an entrepreneur to succeed.

For example, I recently sat through a practice investor pitch with an aspiring entrepreneur, who had many of the things you look for in an investable company.  He had an interesting business concept, a demonstrated need for his product, some initial sales and a good team of advisors.  However, his presentation lacked the passion and enthusiasm necessary to get his audience excited about his product and the business opportunity.  If you can’t passionately describe what differentiates your business from your competitors, and show that you’ll do whatever it takes to make your business succeed, it is very difficult to persuade potential customers and investors to take a risk on you.

I also don’t think you can manufacture passion or enthusiasm for your business.  Either you have it or you don’t.  To me, it’s obvious when someone is genuinely passionate about their business, and also when someone is faking it.  Real passion is what motivates you to get out of bed every day and pursue your goals, regardless of the obstacles.  

For some people, passion also helps them to grow up to be exactly what they wanted to be when they were kids.

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