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5 reasons why founding a startup makes me a better employee

· potential,startup,Word of work

First up, let me set the record straight. For those that know me, I’m not planning a return to the corporate world just yet!

As founder of media and learning startup Total Life Complete, I still very much have my work cut out, to scale the business, and to delight its guests every time.

But, this morning I found myself attending a networking breakfast in Dallas, and a topic of conversation was how the world of work continues to change.

My gut feeling was telling me that I felt better able to deal with the changing world of work (globalisation, automation, the "gig" economy, digitisation of careers etc) now than in did 12 months ago, in my career with a large organisation. That got me thinking - what have I learned, or has become top of mind in running a startup that I'd like to tell/remind my colleagues still working in large organisations, and that I'd evangelise if I were to return to the corporate world.

I’ve learned this:

1. Respect yours and others energy and time

2. Know and do what drives the needle

3. Don’t neglect personal branding/values and networking

4. Learning is a quality of life issue

5. Work should be an expression of you

1. Respect yours and others energy and time

Becoming an entrepreneur is taking your life into your hands in more ways than one. With many roles and simultaneous “hats” worn, I’ve developed a super low tolerance for time and energy wasters. I mourn the wasted time I spent in corporate meetings with no agenda or measurable outcome.

The key word in this lesson is respect. Respect for yourself and others. Taking the time to look after your physical and mental health, your personal relationships and spiritual base will top-up your store of life energy. Choose wisely how to invest your time/energy as that is how you are literally spending your life.

How many of us have gotten used to the idea that we "do meetings during the day, and work at night?". Tying up hordes of over-worked and over-caffeinated employees on conference calls as a matter of fact has little to do with respecting each other, or being productive.

Awakening to the precious nature of time and energy will make me a better employee.

2. Know and do what drives the needle

I wonder how many of us spend our time going through the motions in life and at work. Not sure if we’re on the right track or if we’re reaching our potential.

I can no longer live with that kind of ambiguity. In fact, I spent three years on a quest, to systematically work out and write down what was important at work and outside of work. The Pareto rule in operations suggests that 80% of the results come from 20% of the effort. Many of us are spending 80% of our time on the wrong 20% both inside and outside of work.

Much organisational effort is wasted, working at cross-purposes, on strategy that adds work, but doesn't take away (stop doing) what is no longer required or valuable.

Needless to say, it doesn't make any sense for me to rely on "the way I used to do things" when I'm on such a learning curve, and my environment is always changing. If something doesn't work then stop, and find something that works better, faster, cheaper...

Knowing what really drives outcomes, and relentlessly eliminating distractions to that, is what counts and what will make me a better employee.

3. Don’t neglect personal branding/values and networking

It has been 20 years since Tom Peters wrote his seminal article “The Brand Called You”. About 10 years after the article was written, pundits were decrying the perceived message of the article-that we should, in their words, “brand ourselves like laundry soap”-while they ignored the principles underlying the message. Then the financial crisis hit, and millions more employees joined the globalised market for talent (whether they lost their jobs or kept them).

In 2017 the topics of branding and networking still rankle people. Yet the principles underlying branding and networking (e.g. refining and communicating your unique value to others, listening and learning about people and markets), and the outcomes (e.g. multiplying the impact of your individual efforts and inputs of time and energy) remain as important than ever in living a successful and happy life.

Of the many people I’ve met in the last year who want to change their jobs/lives, networking is consistently one of the top three things that they wish they’d done more of earlier. (The other things: to prioritise their family more often, and to seize the day… to reach their true potential).

Understanding the focus of my personal brand, and the power of networks, makes me a better employee.

4. Learning is a quality of life issue

It has been more than 10 years since I completed my MBA and I’ve learned more in the last 10 months than I did in the interim. Here I’m talking about deep learning that changes the way that you look at the world–whether that is doing for a morning something you’ve never done before–or something on a larger scale like writing a book, running a marathon or starting a business.

I realised that learning is, and should be, more than a compliance exercise, or even, these days, a nice-to-have. Most of us want to reach our potential and a broad set of learning is key to that. But learning is more than consuming knowledge. It is a way of living and of perceiving the world.

Nurturing creativity. Forging diverse mental paths. Humility that, the more you learn, the less that you realise you know.

Realising that deep learning (of anything) makes me more effective, and happier in life (and work) makes me a better employee.

5. Work should be an expression of you

Many of us can probably relate to the sentiment that work often feels like trying to push sand uphill. We expend a lot of effort, for not a lot of visible result. Working in a job that you are competent to do, but not motivated to do can feel like that. It can also feel inauthentic.

When you’re working to your personal purpose you don’t have to try as hard. Sure, you might work much harder, but it doesn’t feel like trying, it feels like training. The focus of performance training is about bringing your innate potential to the fore, and growth. The only person you should try to prove something to is yourself.

Do work that you care about and that moves you. Learning that nobody is getting a good deal if you don’t, makes me a better employee.

Conclusion

It's a truism that often we must be away from something to get perspective on it. If nothing else starting a business has given me a wake-up call in my personal and professional life. One that I feel that it may pay others to heed, even if your path remains within a large organisation for now.

* * *

Brett Cowell is the author of The Good Life Book, Founder/CEO of Total Life Complete, and host of the Total Life Complete podcast. Please like the article or comment. What do you think about the changing world of work. How to help employees in large organisations to be more adaptable?

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