I recently sat down with June Gunter of GO-OD Consulting to find out more about the new venture she and Tuola Ousouljoglou have recently begun and gained some insight on entrepreneurial leadership. GO-OD Consulting partners with organizations to help provide guidance, develop leadership skills, enable change, and serve as trusted advisors you can count on to guide your company forward.
Can you tell me a little bit about GO-OD Consulting and what got you started?
I have been doing organization development work for 33 years, and I have been working with my colleague Tuola Ousouljoglou for a large part of that time. What we have found is that whenever we’re together good things happen for the people we’re serving, so we decided to make a business out of it.
I also have another business called TeachingHorse, LLC that offers leadership development while working with horses. I have been blown away by how TeachingHorse has taken off over the last five years, and I love it! I have a second love, which is helping leaders and small companies figure out how to be successful entrepreneurs and create growing businesses. Toula and I agreed that this was the perfect time in both of our lives to make this dream we have had for decades come to life.
We also feel it is really important that organizations who may have constrained resources have access to wisdom and professionals without breaking their banks. Which is another reason why we built GO-OD Consulting, to be able to fill that gap and create an opportunity for people to have access to important skills, tools, wisdom, and support that they might not otherwise have.
What are some common challenges that entrepreneurial leaders face?
Most people that start an entrepreneurial company don’t do it because they have a love of being a leader. More often, they have something that they want to build, a product that they want to bring to market, or technology that they have discovered and patented. Or maybe it’s a mission to solve a problem that they find important.
All of these are good reasons to start a new venture. But bringing an idea to market and building a business that can deliver on the promises that they’re making to their customers is often a different challenge in itself, especially when they’re being faced with growing quickly.
Many of the people that we work with know that they need to develop advanced leadership communication and team development skills to be able to grow at the pace that the market demands. Creating an organization that can attract and retain talent in this current competitive job market is tough. Things at this stage often are very complex, fast-moving, and there is a tremendous amount of uncertainty. We have worked with numerous clients in large organizations to develop the skills of leading through uncertainty. And, we have walked this path ourselves as fellow entrepreneurs. Having this expertise and experience has prepared us to support entrepreneurial leaders in reaching the vision they have for their companies.
Can you discuss the impact that you have seen as a result of a leader being unable to guide or support their team/organization?
I think one of the things that worries me the most when I look at leaders who are struggling to move their organizations forward is the fact that it is often exhausting. It can be very difficult to have to help people think through and manage the emotional reactions to many aspects of entrepreneurial leadership such as conflict, resource constraint, market competition, or unexpected difficulties with the evolution or progress of a product. These are all very difficult conversations to have and when people aren’t prepared to have them successfully it may become a part of their life that they would rather avoid. It can then become associated with not enjoying their work, may feel insurmountable and could lead to the conclusion that it’s time for them to exit. We believe that much of this leadership drain can be avoided by developing the skills to lead through the challenges as they emerge.
We have worked with many organizations that have successfully invested in advanced leadership, communication and problem-solving tools that have helped them get back on track and move through the ambiguity. Along the way, they remember why they started the company and what they enjoy about it.
What advice can you offer to leaders on encouraging open communication in an organization?
I think the most important thing for leaders in emerging companies to remember is that it’s okay if conversations don’t go well. It’s about being willing to have the conversation again. Take a step back and own that your role is to create an environment where people want to engage with you. It’s important to understand that sometimes that involves not taking other people’s emotional discomfort personally. That means stepping back far enough from the situation to consider that maybe their frustration or anxiety (or other emotions) is not actually about you. What you do need to do is help lead them through it. And not taking things personally takes a lot of practice.
One of the most important questions you can ask yourself as a leader about a situation you might be in is, “Is the thinking I’m using right now giving me energy or draining it?”
If your approach or thinking about solving a problem is draining your energy, then it is probably not an approach that is going to serve you well in the long run, much less the people you’re leading. Let this be the indicator that it is time to pause and reevaluate your approach. How might you frame the problem that needs to be solved as in invitation to collaborate with you, rather than notification of a pending battle?
Our saying is, “Change the energy, change the outcome.” Leaders have to acknowledge that their energy is contagious and that the energy you bring to how you lead is a choice, not a reaction. Leaders need to be incredibly deliberate and conscious about the energy they’re bringing to leading their organizations through uncertainty.