This Entrepreneur Shares The Lesson Every Founder Must Learn to Be a Powerful Leader
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Editor's Note: Entrepreneur's "20 Questions" series features both established and up-and-coming entrepreneurs and asks them a number of questions about what makes them tick, their everyday success strategies and advice for aspiring founders.
At 30 years old, Caroline Ghosn is the founder and CEO of Levo, a digital hub focused on helping millennials build and grow their careers by sharing advice and tools as well as mentorship and networking opportunities.
Ghosn launched the company six years ago, inspired by her own personal experience. Despite finding her way to a role at McKinsey as a consultant, she struggled with understanding what she really wanted in life and how to make the strongest impact.
Wanting to help others in her position, Ghosn launched Levo, and her vision attracted investors and mentors in people like Mighty Networks CEO and founder Gina Bianchini, Susan Lyne, the founder of BBG Ventures and Facebook COO and Lean In founder Sheryl Sandberg.
Today Levo has over one million registered community members and 30 Local Levo chapters who do hold 300 events and meetups a year. The company has also raised more than $8 million in funding. We caught up with Ghosn to ask her 20 Questions and find out what makes her tick.
1. How do you start your day?
I don't look at my phone at all for the first hour of my day. I spend time with my fiance and with my dog. We try to be digitally inactive and allow our time to wake up really slowly. We have no cell phones or devices, as the morning is not a rushed time of the day. I also meditate for about three to five minutes, so I can approach the day in the right energetic state.
2. How do you end your day?
No cell phone usage after 10:30 pm and always being in bed by 11:30 to get 7-8 hours of sleep on a regular basis.
I have a ritual [that helps me wind down]. I have a cup of tea and then we quiet down the house as we start to get ready for bed. If we've been playing music, we turn it off. We never have the TV on at that time. It is basically us telling our bodies to get ready for bed.
3. What’s a book that changed your mind and why?
The Last Safe Investment by Brian Franklin and Michael Ellsberg. The book is about the way we perceive value creation and true wealth.
They flip the script on the "American Dream." They say, your parents spent their entire lives working hard and saving up money for this specific date they are going to retire and then enjoy their life. What if you actually flip the script on this, because the best investment is an upfront investment in your life, into yourself and your learning to increase your earning potential and your happiness throughout your career?
4. What’s a book you always recommend and why?
Habit Changers: 81 Game-Changing Mantras to Mindfully Realize Your Goals by M.J. Ryan. Instead of being this big long book that you have to read from cover to cover, it actually has stories. So it has fables, so to speak, about real people and some of the challenges they've experienced in their lives and mantras that you can think about to overcome those challenges. It’s like a coach by your bedside.
5. What’s a strategy to keep focused?
My personality tends to be focused. I think the one thing I've is to train my mind's ability to return to the center point of what I’m working on.
I think meditation helps that so much. I remember how hard it was when I started meditating, because you have so much going on in your mind, and when you meditate, you have to learn that muscle of just letting it float on by and gently returning to your focus.
6. When you were a kid what did you want to be when you grew up?
I wanted to be the president. I wanted to be an incredible artist, an actor. I wanted to be a doctor for Doctors Without Borders, I thought it was amazing. To me, they were heroes.
7. What did you learn from the worst boss you ever had?
This was really early on in my career in a project-based management consulting job. We had new bosses all the time. [The structure was] we had eight-week projects and then another eight-week project with a different boss. I got a massive dose of different personalities. The person who I would qualify as bad didn't provide clarity around their expectations. You literally never knew where you stood. There was also a lack of clarity and a lack of individual recognition.
[This boss] also told me you should smile less; you're already young and a woman. And make sure you don't seem too junior to our clients. What do you even say that that? I learned from that experience to listen to people's feedback, and say thank you, but it doesn't mean you should take that feedback. A lot of times, people are projecting their insecurities onto you.
8. Who has influenced you most when it comes to how you approach your work?
My parents. They are super different. My dad is linear, disciplined and clear. As a manager, I get that from him. My mom is innovative, creative and empathetic. She can read a room, she knows where people are coming from. She taught me that wisdom, which is really helpful when you are working on teams and you want to move together towards a common goal.
9. What’s a trip that changed you?
I went to Burning Man for the first time in 2013. I've now been [every year since]. That completely changed my life. It is a really fascinating social experiment. It's an intentional community at scale which doesn't exist anywhere else in the world. The fact that you can create an alternative living community with a set of clear values that can scale to 75,000 people is really fascinating, from an anthropology standpoint. It fundamentally and permanently alters your perception of the social and economic systems that we have once you re-enter them. When you live in an environment where people are radically inclusive and you just get to know your neighbors, you come back to an environment and you become more neighborly. It made me a lot more appreciative of community and a lot more proactive in creating it.
10. What inspires you?
Alignment. I'm always inspired by my own alignment with my purpose. When I feel like OK this is what I'm here to do, then I'm infinitely creative. The same is true for people around me. So, I'm extremely inspired by other people being able to be creative and pursue their own tasks.
11. What was your first business idea and what did you do with it?
Once when I was 4 or 5, my parents were hosting a dinner, and I thought this would be great opportunity to sell stuff to their friends. I was obsessed with art and my mom is an excellent potter, so there was always clay in my room. I busted into the living room very confidently and said I am now selling these sculptures I have made -- they are really unique and they cost $5. I went to each person at the dinner and asked, would to like to purchase a commemoration of this dinner? I got a few dollars and I was the most proud.
12. What was an early job that taught you something important or useful?
My mom is an entrepreneur, and when I was in high school I would work in her restaurant over the summer. It taught me how to really understand people. Because when you're working in that kind of service environment, especially really young, people don't go easy on you. They can come into that space in a good mood or a bad move. You never really know, and you have to learn how to handle that. So, it taught me to be more observant of people, their personalities and understand how handle them and how to work with them.
13. What’s the best advice you ever took?
Show up and get out in front. Early in my career, Gina Bianchini, the founder of Ning, gave me that advice. We were at an event together. She looked at me and she goes, "We're here. That means we're going to sit in the front row. We're going to show up. If we're here let's make the most of it.”
That really resonated with me, because life is so short. When you choose to do something fully, commit to it. That's the only way to do it -- otherwise don't do it at all.
14. What's the worst piece of advice you ever got?
Not to smile or engage with people at different levels than me in a corporate environment. Early on in my career, someone said to me, you're super young. When you walk into a room and you acknowledge the presence of everybody, including the assistants, it makes you look more junior. That was the rudest thing I ever heard. Sometime when you hear that kind of thing, you have to realize that it's coming from that person's own projections, it has nothing to do with you.
15. What’s a productivity tip you swear by?
Do one thing at a time, do it really well and do it until it’s done. Ruthlessly prioritize what you're actually going to get done in a day. So I use Getting Things Done by David Allen. It's about how to declutter your mental state. It's an organizational system you can use to prioritize exactly what you need to get done in a day and not let that endless rolling to-do list [take up space] in your mind.
16. Is there an app or tool you use in a surprising way to get things done or stay on track?
I use TeauxDeux. It's a digital to-do list that syncs across all your devices.
17. What does work-life balance mean to you?
I don't believe that work-life balance is a thing. You can't do everything in perfect calibration in your life. My philosophy around this is your job is to integrate the things that are important to you at any given time and ruthlessly prioritize what is going to give you the most joy.
Over the course of the year, ask yourself what have I accomplished? The way I think about it is, it's a marathon, but it's not like you're running at the same pace throughout the whole thing. That's why I don't like the word balance and I would focus more on integration.
18. How do you prevent burnout?
You’ve got to manage your energy. It’s more important than managing your time. Who cares if you’re killing it the first year but then suddenly you’re exhausted and can’t get out of bed? You’re not an inspiring leader, and you’re not very healthy at that point. Learning how to pace yourself is a really amazing exercise. Everyone has a different threshold. It involves self-discovery, getting to know your body and being willing to draw the line. Because there's never, especially for entrepreneurs, a shortage of work. There's always stuff to do. So, it's your responsibility to prioritize it and manage your energy so that you don't actually yourself in the future.
19. When you’re faced with a creativity block, what’s your strategy to get innovating?
I've felt creatively blocked when I'm stuck at the wrong level. The solution to a blockage is go one level higher. If you're stuck, it's because you're not looking at things at the right altitude. When you elevate the altitude, you might find some creative solutions out there where you couldn't see before.
20. What are you learning now?
I'm learning how to let go. When you're a CEO of company you're pushing energy all the time. You're the pace setter. You're pushing the team towards a common goal. And I'm actually learning how to pull, which is a different way of approaching it. What happens when I become better at empowering people with the right context to surprise me, step into bigger positions of leadership and demonstrate that they actually have an even better solution? You love the thing that you're working on so much and you always want to be careful that you're not clutching it too tightly. When you're an entrepreneur and are excellent at getting things done, you've got to learn how create a space for other people to surprise us and get even greater things done.