Building and running a business can be an exhilarating and challenging choice in career and profession, but often, you are faced with hard decisions as an entrepreneur. Women are often judged more harshly than our male colleagues and have different expectations when making these hard decisions. Women have additional expectations to provide a sense of compassion and empathy as bosses, and if you don’t, you are at risk of being deemed “cold” or “insensitive.”
The pandemic has put many businesses at risk, and for Ali Kriegsman, COO and cofounder of Bulletin, a wholesale marketplace that connects retailers with the best brands on the planet, life in the retail sector was hit hard. With the economic uncertainty first presenting itself back in February 2020, Ali and her business partner, like so many other women leaders and CEOs, were forced into putting their business first and making proactive but difficult financial decisions that affected the company the team.
Women business owners often have to reconcile the delicate reality of managing a small and tight-knit team and the very human implications of hard financial decisions. When you’ve worked with people over the years, you get to know them and form relationships with them, so when faced with tough business decisions, it can be hard to separate what’s “business” from what’s “personal.”
To complicate things further, women leaders are often quietly expected to be “nicer.” Their decisions, judgment calls and behaviors are often scrutinized more closely than male leaders or male founders. This can cause a tricky, complicated situation for many women leaders, who have to make and manage their company through tough financial decisions or changes while simultaneously managing and measuring how they’re perceived.
Ali has authored the book, How To Build A Goddamn Empire, which demystifies the world of entrepreneurship in real-time, from the trenches. She also features words of wisdom from some of her fellow female founders who have built successful companies of radically different stages and sizes.
Ali’s advice to other women entrepreneurs who are facing or have faced tough business decisions:
1. As women, we need to stop worrying about perception
We cannot operate under a microscope and let our critics dictate how we run a business. In business, tough choices need to be made, and they must be made without incessantly doubting yourself and your decision-making skills. There will always be critics, so make the hard decisions and move on from them. You can’t make everyone happy, nor should you need to.
2. Lead with empathy
That being said, empathy is an essential skill as a leader. Empathy is the ability to understand and share others’ feelings without necessarily taking on those feelings’ responsibility. As you make the tough decisions, you need to let others know that it isn’t personal, and you know sometimes the news is hard to receive, but you are also available to help them move forward in any way, within your capacity. It is up to your team members, former employees or relevant parties to be willing to accept that help and act on it. You can’t make someone want your help, but it is within your power, and critical to your role as an empathetic leader, that you offer your support when and how you can.
3. The hard decisions you make as a leader don’t define who you are
Part of leadership is making tough decisions. The reality is that as a business owner, you are not only responsible to your employees, but you are also accountable for the health and success of your business. That takes the occasional tough decision, but you also must separate emotion from that decision as best you can. These decisions are never easy, and they may weigh on you as a new leader, less experienced founder, or as an empathetic person overall. But it would be best if you kept the interest of the business paramount at all times, which doesn’t make you any less compassionate or less worthy as a leader. Your decisions and your character are not the same.
The bottom line is that as a business owner and leader, you need to put your business first. Without the company operating, generating revenue, and growing, this business will cease to exist. But if you have been in an unfortunate layoff situation, don’t be afraid to ask that previous employer for help. You can reach out to get a referral letter and let them know you would appreciate their help in using their network to find you an alternative position.