After graduating from college and working for seven years in a corporate environment, I decided to start my own insurance and securities brokerage firm, Mitchell Financial Inc. I was young, passionate, and filled with the drive to be a successful entrepreneur.
At that time, my husband and I had limited resources—also known as having NO MONEY—so I worked 24/7 to make the business profitable and successful. This was also the time when I started doing volunteer work in the community. I helped to charter the Nashville Chapter of the National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO) and also served in my first significant leadership position on a very well established nonprofit board.
This nonprofit organization was created to help minority businesses gain access to corporate contracts. My role was to lead the minority businesses in our efforts to figure out how to do more business with large companies. In this role, I helped to launch five big, bold initiatives for the organization that increased our visibility in the greater community. It was very hard work, and again I had limited resources, but my rationale was that if I helped our member companies succeed, then my company, eventually, would reap the benefits.
I worked on these initiatives for a few years and during that time also developed what felt like a great friendship with the executive director. As you can imagine, we worked closely together and spent a lot of long hours working on these projects. I believed we had developed mutual trust and respect for each other, and that we were both working very hard to achieve the same goals. However, as the initiatives began to take off and each one gained traction, I discovered the hard way, that this person was neither a good friend nor trustworthy. In fact, this person was a “taker.” A taker of ideas, a taker of resources, and a taker of perception.
This was a very hard lesson for me to learn and at the end of the day, I had to make some very hard choices. I could either fight to continue to lead the initiatives that I helped to create or I could choose to walk away. It was during this time that I learned about the concept of owning your “personal power.” I decided that the best choice for me was to resign from the board and to walk away clean. It was disheartening, depressing, and embarrassing but I knew in my heart that it was the right thing to do and the principal decision to make for me and my firm.
Fortunately for me, a very seasoned, successful, female senior corporate executive, who had witnessed this entire series of events, pulled me to the side and told me that she was going to give me a piece of advice that had served her well in her career. She said:
“Rita, don’t ever go into a meeting, take on a project, or enter into a service position, without having your own personal agenda. When YOU don’t have an agenda, not only will YOU lose YOUR power…but YOU will also be serving someone’s else’s agenda other than your own…this will happen whether YOU know it or not, so you should always be prepared for it to happen!!”
This advice, needless to say, was POWERFUL!! In the past when I had made decisions to serve, I had only considered the organization…its mission, its purpose as it related to me, and ultimately the value of my contribution. Up until that time I had never considered that there might be personal agendas on the table that were not in-line with the organizations’ or mine.
I began to contemplate the advice…what is an agenda? What is power? I went to the dictionary…Webster’s says that an agenda is a list or outline of things to be considered or done…and power is the control, authority, or influence over others…
So, with that advice, I stepped back and I began to create my own personal agenda by asking myself the following questions:
- Who am I? What do I stand for?
- What do I want?
- Where am I going? Where do I want to end up?
- Why am I saying YES/NO?
The answers to those questions became my personal agenda—the things I value most— and today I use it to filter everything that I do and every decision that I make!!
Rita’s Personal Agenda
- To search for the truth and to do what is right.
- To support and help my family with all of my might, all that I am, and with all that I have.
- To serve like-minded people and like-minded organizations.
Once I established my personal agenda I then had to figure out what was “my power”; what was I giving away??
- My talents, my skills, my creativity, my knowledge
- My time, my resources, my network, my professional brand
So here are two questions for you:
- What is your personal agenda? What is your personal filter?
- Do you own your power? Are you in control of what you allow people to have and/or share?
When you can answer “yes” to these two questions, you are well on your way to controlling your destiny and personal success.
Remember, people may try to take your power and control you for their personal gain. They will do it through trickery, peer pressure, and intimidation, but YOU are always in control. YOU own your skills, your time, your knowledge and your resources—AND—YOU get to choose how you share your power. Stay strong and focused on your personal agenda and YOU will control your success!!