On Wednesday, May 6, Jennifer Brown participated as a panelist along with five other accomplished woman founders and CEOs at New York City’s newly-renovated LGBT Community Center. The space served as a fresh and fitting location for a multi-generational group of successful women to come together and reflect upon their leadership journeys, including the course that led Brown to become the Founder and CEO of Jennifer Brown Consulting and the type of business owner that she is today.
An intimate audience of ambitious women, ranging from established executives to recent founders of budding start-ups, were eager for advice from these seasoned leaders, as well as empowerment for their own entrepreneurial ventures.
As the possibility of failure is a natural concern and often a reality among entrepreneurs, it was hardly a coincidence that the panel discussion commenced with a question about it. To the audience’s relief, the entire panel confidently reported to have found strength and opportunity in their missteps and losses.
Failure, it turned out, was the push Brown needed to seek what she was uniquely good at, and provided the new beginning necessary for her to start her own diversity consulting firm. “Trust your own voice and intuition” was the message she shared and that the other panelists echoed. “Women need to listen to their voice.”
On the same topic, Brown admitted to having, at one time, entrusted operational authority to others who either didn’t share her vision or weren’t a good fit with the company. She learned that it takes time to assemble the right team but was also reminded that it was up to her to decide what kind of business to run. “At the end of the day, we [the leaders] are the blood and guts and heart of our businesses.”
Brown employs independent contractors for many functions within her company, but when asked to describe her relationship with the word “no”, she stated assuredly that CEO is one title she won’t relinquish, at least for now. “With every new CEO comes a different direction. CEOs are visionaries, and there is a risk in giving that to someone else. It’s tricky to find someone that can carry the brand and vision forward with the same authenticity and resonance.”
In the last segment of the discussion, the patient audience was given the floor to present their questions. A number of raised hands peppered the crowd. “How do you inspire the staff you bring on to not only adopt your mission, but also to become as passionate as you are about the work?”
Brown came forward with her strategy to capitalize on each employee’s strengths. Identifying each person’s niche and then placing them on projects where they can excel and feel proud of their work will increase their sense of personal investment in the overall mission. “Let them focus on what they’re good at,” Brown recommends. She has found that this approach has kept her team motivated and goal-oriented.
Before departing, one last nugget of entrepreneurial advice was requested of the panelists for all the visionaries and thinkers about to go back out into the world. While each panelist’s piece of advice varied, each had merit, and in all cases, it was information that had been imparted to them from someone else along the trajectory of their careers.
Upon parting, Jennifer Brown left us with this: “Say ‘yes’ and figure it out later. Yes is innovation. That’s where we grow.”
Don’t miss the JBC Diversity Starter Kit for CEOsSM as a step-by-step guide for facilitating the D&I conversation with your CEO. The starter kit will help you encourage your CEO to ask and answer questions and affirm action steps—all in under 30 minutes.
Use the starter kit and the attached exercise to find D&I stories grounded in business principles. Perhaps they’ve never been summoned, named, or shared as “diversity” stories, but the stories are there. Download by clicking here.