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Working for visionary leaders like Ted Turner and AOL co-founder Steve Case, I have discovered a crucial aspect of success – you should always be an entrepreneur in your own business. No matter how small your business is, or how large it becomes, it is important to maintain an entrepreneur’s contagious hunger for new ideas and opportunities. Here is how I have done this:
Do not define yourself by your resume.
When I was age 26, Gary Hart asked me to become the press secretary for his Senate office and eventually his first presidential campaign. If you looked at my resume at the time, my paralegal and reporting positions may not have been the stereotypical path for a career in politics and as a press secretary. However, I did an inventory of my skills – such as being a compelling and persuasive advocate – and realized I had plenty of abilities that were not on my resume.
When I went to America Online in 1997 as senior vice president and chief communications officer, I originally thought I would be out of place in a company full of technology focused people. I realized I had the skills to translate the techie experience to the general public. It is easy to limit yourself because you think you do not have the right background or title, but if you do a thorough and honest self-appraisal you often see you really do have the ability to tackle the most daunting challenges.
Trust your gut - but double check with facts.
If you do not follow your basic gut instinct, you miss out on the chance to find a big idea. From the theory of relativity to industry-changing businesses, great ideas have often sprung from one person’s intuition. After you’ve found that big idea comes the time to evaluate and test it. Surround yourself with teams of talented and vested people who can weed out mediocre ideas, check facts and viability, and then champion the ideas that make the most sense. Those “big ideas” will rise to the surface and everyone will feel some ownership of them.
Run a marathon, not a sprint.
This phrase was Steve Case’s mantra at AOL, and it kept us from succumbing to short-term distractions so we could focus on long-term success. Early on at AOL, for example, we had to decide whether we would make privacy of user information a distinguishing characteristic of our company. It would have been beneficial for AOL to have that distinction to ourselves in the short term. But we realized it was better in the long run for us to approach other top Internet companies and jointly promote privacy to spur more people to go online.
Do not be afraid to get your hands dirty.
At AOL, we had a saying that “no job is too menial if you approach it properly.” If someone gives me a piece of paper covered with typos, I’m disappointed. Their work is a basic reflection of how they treat their job and their respect for me as a peer or manager. I have seen that the most successful people -- the “rocks stars”, if you will -- step in and just do whatever needs to be done. They never have a “that’s not my job” syndrome or think tasks are beneath them. And that includes the best bosses.
Along the same lines, I have noticed that women are often so focused on 100% perfection in the job or task in front of them that they do not notice what else needs to be done. They are missing the opportunity to think about what position they want down the road and expand their skills.
Broaden your current boundaries and ways of thinking.
A successful entrepreneur is part of a larger world and you must always broaden your perspective and think boldly. Earlier in this series, you read about Maria Pacheco, founder of Wakami World, who I mentored through Vital Voices. Maria was a breath of fresh air in terms of her optimism and bold, passionate, and creative thinking.
She really educated me on Latin America, and had an important influence on the global work we do at the United Nations Foundation. It’s a challenge to encourage yourself to learn and think differently. That’s one reason I value the opportunity to mentor upcoming leaders like Maria who have a different life experience than I do. No matter how successful you become, you should always allow yourself room to learn and grow.
Kathy Bushkin Calvin is CEO of the United Nations Foundation, and a mentor for Vital Voices.
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