U.S. Embassy Brasilia hosted a live virtual discussion in May 2020 for exchange alumni and members of the YLAI Network on “how to lead in a post-pandemic world,” featuring entrepreneurship experts Alisa Cohn and Richie Norton, with moderator Rhett Power. Recognizing that the future is uncertain but will not be the same as the past, Alisa, Richie and Rhett share insights from their experience as entrepreneurs for how up-and-coming young leaders and entrepreneurs can adapt to their current circumstances and prepare for what may come.
‘Orient yourself toward action.’ — Alisa Cohn
Focusing on building a strong foundation for the future can help ensure that as a young leader or entrepreneur, you are preparing yourself to adapt to the unexpected while continuing to make progress toward your goals. Even for established entrepreneurs, this is an opportunity to learn and experiment. Taking on a “Day 1” mindset and looking at what you have built and what you still want to accomplish from the perspective of starting at the beginning can help you see potential where you may have seen only challenges.
As Alisa notes, “We are in this moment where we have to embrace reality and then figure out what’s possible. That’s entrepreneurship, all the good and all the bad of it.” With an eye toward the future, each of the speakers shared their suggestions for finding motivation and inspiration:
- As a Man Thinketh by John Allen
- Man’s Search for Meaning by Victor Frankl
- Books by Marianne Williamson
- First Round Review from First Round Capital
- Real-time podcasts on your specific sector/industry
- Connections through the YLAI Network
Thinking about what he would suggest that other entrepreneurs read for inspiration and motivation during this time, Richie, an entrepreneur and author himself, reflects that “the way you think about the world is the way you approach the world. No matter what tactical thing you learn, you will approach it based on your mindset.” Your reading and listening choices can help you change your perspective and develop a new worldview.
There are opportunities out there, but those opportunities may not look the same as you thought they might. Recognizing that current circumstances are different than before is the beginning of creating change. Richie’s advice for young leaders and entrepreneurs: Don’t wait for things to go back to the way they were. Focus on moving forward into the future. Don’t wait for change. Create it. “Look for the one thing you can do today and do it.” Turn your goals into decisions.
‘Take care of yourself, so you can take care of others.’ — Rhett Power
Alisa, Richie and Rhett also made a point that entrepreneurs and young leaders, as managers and as leaders, should practice empathy, starting with themselves. Richie encouraged those participating in the discussion to recognize that the dark times “are a tunnel, not a cave; you’re going to come through it, but if you stop walking you will self-impose a cave on you. Keep walking.” Focusing on the little things you can accomplish and breaking down the bigger challenges into the little opportunities you have to make progress toward what is necessary will help you get where you need to go.
For leaders and managers of teams, Rhett suggests involving members of your team in the problem-solving process. Recognizing that you are not alone in solving challenges, you might be surprised with the creativity of your team. After all, they are invested in the success of your shared mission too. Alisa advises young leaders to “double down on purpose” and empower your team to be a part of moving the team forward.
START (Serve, Thank, Ask, Receive, Trust) — Richie Norton
Each of the speakers also offered examples of businesses that have found ways to adapt to new circumstances: a bakery that created a way for customers to order online for countrywide delivery, a dog grooming business that has diversified into pet apparel, and an event organizing business that has refocused on sending joy-in-a-box. As Alisa notes, “How you show up affects everything.”
Using this moment to reconnect with your customers, with the people you serve, can help you decide how to pivot. Alisa notes, “Problems and obstacles [are] everywhere. But what CAN you do? … That is where to focus your time and attention.”
For young leaders and entrepreneurs facing difficult circumstances, all three experts encouraged a focus on building relationships. For entrepreneurs, this means getting in front of customers, testing your market, and connecting with potential partners and investors. For young leaders, this may mean connecting with family, neighbors and your community to serve them the best you can, however you are able.
Richie shares his mnemonic for developing new relationships: START.
- Serve – Serve others and offer what you can.
- Thank – Thank the people you connect with in your network or from your business for the opportunity to engage with them.
- Ask – Ask for help, and if you are able to ask for what people are already willing to give, even better.
- Receive – Openly receive what other people send your way, both the gifts and the criticisms, as opportunities to build on what you have done.
- Trust – Trust yourself and the decisions you are making. Other people will have opinions, but the one that matters most is your own.
Building relationships, building your network, will solidify your foundation for future decisions.
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