As I round the corner of four years in business, I find that almost every day, I discover something new about myself, leadership, and small business ownership. Here are my top three of the many lessons learned in 2023.

LESSON ONE: Slow Down & Seek Feedback

As a leader, I am extremely strategic. I get an idea, and tend to have tunnel vision on how to execute; because I have full control over the direction of my company, I often move quickly, take risks, and make decisions easily . As a small business owner, this trait has been a superpower when it comes to meeting client training needs, building content, creating activities, and branding. However, this year, my haste to move hit me negatively in one way… financially.

The first three years in business, I spent very conservatively as I worked to build my brand and clientele; consequently, WNY People Development came into 2023 pretty flush on capital, and that was exciting. I found myself hitting the “buy” button on expenses I previously hadn’t prioritized, attended events I wouldn’t have viewed as necessary prior, said “yes” more than I should have, and enrolled in memberships that may or may not have increased business growth; simply put, I got a little loose with spending.

I wasn’t vetting financial choices with my team, I just did what “felt” good or “right” in that moment, and that was a mistake. If I had taken the time to ask for feedback from those in my circle of coworkers, peers, and mentors who understand finance, small business growth, and prioritization, I probably wouldn’t have jumped on some of the things I did, and my P&L would look stronger.

It was an important lesson for me, and all leaders for that matter.

Although we may oversee a team of people, a process, or an entire organization, no one has all the answers, not even the most seasoned leader. Making the choice NOT to seek feedback from others can have detrimental impacts for an individual, team, or organization as a whole.

So slow down! Ask those around you about options you are considering; you may find support for the direction, or you may encounter a challenge, but either way, you’re collecting valuable information that will assist you in making a better informed and, in my case, less reckless, decision.

LESSON TWO: Take Risks and Learn From Them

It should come as no surprise, my second lesson is tied to the first. A few financial decisions made in 2023 won’t be replicated in 2024 because I learned the dangers of moving too quickly without asking feedback from others; however there were a few that have paid off. Amplification of branding, customer acquisition, and speaking opportunities have increased because I took a few financial risks, and they’re moving WNY People Development forward.

In many of my leadership training sessions, I often talk about the “F” word (not the first one that popped into your head, the other “F” word)…FAILURE.

Particularly in the professional space, we put a ton of pressure on ourselves to do everything right at work; this can lead to analysis paralysis, micro managing, communication gaps, and a whole host of other issues because we don’t want to make a mistake.

What are we so afraid of?

I challenge you…don’t fear f*cking up (and yes, I meant the other “F” word that time). When you take a risk or try something new, it demonstrates a commitment to learning and growth; you’re choosing to do something over nothing. Sometimes it works out, and you’ll be able to use that strategy in similar situations for the future, or you find out exactly what NOT to do, which leads you to try a different approach; either way, you win! For me, taking an uncomfortable chance led to a deal with one of the top hybrid business/leadership book publishers in the country, and my first leadership book being released in 2024 (much more to come on that over the next couple of months).

Unless you’re dealing with a decision that could potentially bankrupt an organization or negatively impact thousands of jobs, most day to day planning or problems aren’t going to be world enders, I promise. Research tells us when we take risks (and sometimes fail along the way), we build confidence in ourselves and our abilities. So the next time you’re faced with a decision, ask yourself, “What’s the worst thing that could happen?” My best leadership lessons have come in failure and continue to help me build WNY People Development, better serve clients, and change how we lead and work.

WNY stands for “why not you?”, and I encourage you to ask yourself that question next time you’re faced with uncertainty… get out of your comfort zone, and take the risk! Doing so definitely paid off for me in 2023.

LESSON THREE: Be Your Authentic Self, and Let Others Be Theirs

Everyone is unique; we are motivated by different things, have varied communication preferences, kick ass in different areas of life, and struggle in others. Our diversity of thought, strengths, and values make us special, powerful, innovative, and interesting.

WNY People Development hosted an event in 2023 to bring local workforce leaders and Gen Z together for an open dialogue about how and why we work; it was inspired by numerous conversations with clients that kept asking me how to “deal with Gen Z”. I heard comments like, “they have no work ethic”, “they don’t get how we do things”, and “they are so different”.

But here’s the thing…we’re ALL different–that doesn’t make us “right” or “wrong”, it just makes us different. (And sidenote to that, who determines what “right” is anyway?) What is right for me, may not be right for you, however, we need to work to respect other perspectives, and come together to find what’s “right” for US. Working to understand different work styles, ideas, and motivators, collectively we can have greater impact. For instance, I don’t believe everyone should bring a set of pom poms and music to team meetings to launch a new process, but I do know it has worked for me and those I’ve had the opportunity to lead, but that doesn’t mean it’s the only way to generate positive energy.

I’ve always believed if you want to understand something, you need to immerse yourself in it completely; get comfortable being uncomfortable, and you will grow. I began teaching at UNCW because I wanted to hear directly from the generation that disrupts work for so many others, and what I can tell you is they’ve probably taught me more than I’ve taught them. I respect their world views, and what I don’t “get”, I ask probing questions to better understand thought process behind it, and the answers are fascinating.

Our personal and professional lives are connected, and you shouldn’t have to drop yourself at the door fully to be successful; edit a bit for the sake of collaboration maybe, but not try to be someone you’re not. Your quirks, knowledge, and experiences make you who you are, and should be respected. Be authentically you, and welcome others to do the same.

Cheers to 2024, and more lessons learned!