Sonya Mendez always knew she wanted to work for herself. Her father had run a molasses company in her native Jamaica. As a competitive golfer in her teens, she admired the successful businessmen -- and yes, they were mostly men -- she met on the links.
She had plenty of role models, but she still wasn't sure how to launch her own career as an entrepreneur.
I met Sonya after I spoke at the first CEO Evolution Roundtable hosted by the Stamford campus of the University of Connecticut School of Business. The 25-year-old UConn graduate attended the event looking for insights to help her build the real estate career she dreamed of. She took a risk leaving a comfortable salary and job security to go it alone.
The thing is, she doesn't have to be alone.
We all know that many skills only come from experience. But not all of them have to come from your own experience. Who says you can't learn from the experience of those who have gone before you?
It's been four years since I resigned as CEO of WWE, the company my husband and I founded and built into a global enterprise. My goal in joining this panel discussion wasn't to walk down memory lane. It was to light the path forward for entrepreneurs like Sonya who are starting their own journey to the corner office.
I was one of four entrepreneurs sharing the stage that night, reflecting on how we built our businesses and the lessons we learned on the way. While we worked in vastly different industries, including entertainment, health care and technology, we often found our heads nodding in agreement as the others were speaking. Turns out, there is no secret CEO handshake. We get no benefit keeping what we've learned to ourselves. The wisdom we developed over years -- or in my case, decades -- of experience can be relevant to just about any entrepreneur.
Here are just a few insights I shared with the audience that night that I think can help anyone seeking to be a good leader.
Treat every day like it's your first day on the job. Look at things with fresh eyes. Don't do something just because it's the way it's always been done. Can it be done better? Challenge experience. That's how you grow and stay dynamic.
Be open to new ideas, no matter where they come from. The consumer products division of WWE started when a fan at a live event asked if we had T-shirts to sell. With only a slight hesitation, I told him, "Not yet!"
Hire talented people and hold them accountable. Communicate what's expected and how results will be measured, then let your employees thrive. You hired them for a reason. Let them do their job and they will give all they can give. That's how your company will grow.
It was not lost on me that I was the only woman on the panel. At a time when women make up just 16 percent of corporate boards and there are only 22 women serving as CEOs of Fortune 500 companies, we particularly need to show more women the way to the top.
A week after the CEO Evolution Roundtable, Sonya reported back that she had been particularly inspired by my comments about being accountable -- to employees, to supervisors, to customers. She decided to schedule weekly meetings with her agency's managing broker to discuss how she could better hold herself accountable to her clients and to the agency itself. What trends in the industry was she seeing? What was she missing? How could she build her client base?
I am humbled and thrilled to know my experiences are helping a young woman build her own success. And I want other business leaders to feel the same way.
Let's crack open the door to the C-suite. Share what you've learned, and be specific. I don't expect anyone to give away their trade secrets, but let's demystify what goes on in the corner office. Mentor a young up-and-comer, join a roundtable discussion, or just chat over coffee with someone who could benefit from your experience.
You never know when there will be a Sonya in your audience eager to hear exactly what you have to say.
Linda McMahon is the co-founder and former CEO of Stamford-based World Wrestling Entertainment and was Connecticut's Republican nominee for U.S. Senate in 2012. She lives in Greenwich.