Living Entrepreneurship Blog / Women's Leadership

5 Ways Women Entrepreneurs Can Achieve Their Full Leadership Potential

Each year, Babson College hosts Women and Diversity Day, where faculty, staff, alumni, prospective students, and current students have an opportunity to learn from one another and experience all that Babson has to offer.

Kicking off the full-day of programming, Susan Duffy, Executive Director of the Center for Women’s Entrepreneurial Leadership, challenged audience members to push themselves to better understand how they can reach their full entrepreneurial leadership potential. Read her Best Practice Playlist to see how you can set yourself up for that same success, below.

Can you think yourself into a bigger, bolder, future?
Many best practices for business growth and development focus on outside influences: access to capital, market dynamic, or industry and sector trends; but in order to be the best of the best, we must start with the “inside job” by reframing our expectations of what is possible for ourselves, our customers and our businesses. Why does this matter so much? If your expectation is to build a $1 million business, your brain will interpret data through the $1M lens. It will let in information that aligns with that reality, interpret input to achieve that outcome, and offer ideas only within that boundary — without you ever knowing it. However, if you believe you are building a $1 billion business, your brain will cooperate just as well. It will interpret your reality to achieve that much bolder aspiration. In order to push the boundaries of success, we must intentionally, routinely and rigorously exercise and expand our entrepreneurial expectations.

Once women entrepreneurs adopt a practice of expanding entrepreneurial expectations to include new possibilities, what usually follows are … new possibilities! So now what?

Jumping into things may sound very dangerous, and it can be, but it can also be a powerful strategy for forward motion. As women, we often prefer not to jump until we are completely sure about what we are doing – waiting until we believe ourselves to be 110% qualified to move forward, while men consider themselves ready to roll much sooner. And roll they do. The result? While we are over-preparing, men are jumping out and taking advantage of opportunities that we are equally qualified to seize.

The paradox here is that in our increasingly complex world, over-preparedness is actually counterproductive. Often there is no way to know exactly what to do next — more research, planning, and analysis will not yield the essential information that leads to preparedness. The best way to get fresh data on what will work or not work is to act. Only through action can we see what happens, then based on that real outcome, take the next step. As women entrepreneurs we must retrain ourselves to jump sooner than later and we must act our way into the unknown. At Babson we call this Entrepreneurial Thought and Action™ or “ET&A”. To understand how it works, head here.

Busy entrepreneurs know that it takes every bit of energy we have to be successful. Unfortunately, we expend way too much of our time creating scenarios about what we should have done, kicking ourselves, squandering essential cognitive capacity that we could be using to grow our businesses. Women entrepreneurs need to put that negative anxiety through what researchers call “the clearing process.” The clearing process helps to sort fact from fiction. The next time you are lying in bed at night worrying about something, try this: take each core assumption that is driving your anxiety and ask yourself whether the assumption is true, false, or simply “you don’t know.” You will find that much of what we worry about is either simply not true or unverifiable at this time. The only thing you can do anything about are those items that fall squarely in the “true” column. Instead of worrying about what you should have done, take the truth about each assumption on its face value and clear your anxiety by exposing much of it as fiction.

The clearing process also helps to combat imposter syndrome – that secret dread that you are fooling everyone, not nearly as talented as everyone thinks, and under the right circumstances you will be exposed as a fraud. Imposter syndrome is a widely researched phenomenon suffered by both men and women. It has no correlation to competence and tends to show up with very high achieving people. In order to tame the imposter monster, women entrepreneurs must learn to internalize external validation, avoid suffering in silence, and try to not take themselves too seriously.

We are often told about the importance of networking, and while it remains vital to success, women entrepreneurs also need to create tribes. Tribes are close communities of women and men who look out for your best interest, who understand you and your business. They are people who “get” you. Think of tribes as a personal, rather than professional, board of advisors. The difference between a tribe and a network is that a network is transactional: it is a means to an end. Tribes are transformational: they make us feel great about ourselves. While spending time with your tribe is fun, it is also much more functional than you might realize.

The science behind the importance of finding your tribe comes from a social learning concept called “self-efficacy.” Self-efficacy is the confidence – not the competence – that we have what it takes to be successful. Here are four ways that women entrepreneurs build self-efficacy and what a tribe can do to support this.

  1. Mastery Experiences
    Tribes offer a safe space to try on new behaviors and test out new experiences. (Learn more here.)
  2. Vicarious Learning
    Tribes offer us direct access to role models who look like us and sound like us. We think: if she can do it, I can do it. (Learn more here.)
  3. Anxiety Reduction
    Tribes help keep us stay calm by sharing similar experiences to the challenges we face. Trusted members of our tribe demonstrate how they survived and often thrived in tricky situation. (Learn more here.)
  4. “Champion Cheerleading”
    Tribes offer us the “atta girls” we need just when we need them. They pick us up when we are down, inspire us to reach high, and applaud us on to the finish line. (Learn more here.)

Our tribes also help us recognize how incredibly special we are. Which leads us to the final best practice.

Women entrepreneurs are the key to local, national, and global economic and social prosperity. Because of the companies and organizations you create, the way that you lead and the ripple-effect impact you make, the entire world is a better place. Never forget that your business is as unique as your thumbprint. Only you can bring it to the world through your one-of-a-kind mix of values, education, experiences, social identities, and yes, even your biology. You are extraordinary.

Using these best practices, you will change the world.


About Babson’s Center for Women’s Entrepreneurial Leadership (CWEL):
As the first center ever focused on women entrepreneurial leaders at a business school, CWEL is one of the most visible and important ways that Babson supports women entrepreneurs on the Wellesley, Boston, and Miami campuses. CWEL’s award-winning programs, exclusive events, access to cutting-edge experts, and hands-on coaching impacts a diverse set of stakeholders from around the world. Those programs include: the CWEL Scholars program for high-performing female undergraduate students; the Women Innovating Now (WIN) Lab® accelerator for women entrepreneurs building scalable businesses; Mentor programs designed to educate both undergraduate and graduate students on the value of developmental relationships; Executive Education built for established women leaders striving to make a strategic economic impact; and a lively, supportive, and growing community of faculty who do groundbreaking research on the economic value women entrepreneurial leaders bring to the world.