In a recent business meeting we were asked to reflect on lessons we learned early in our careers, but with a bit of a twist:

What did you learn to do more of and what did you learn to avoid or do less of?

A memory I had not thought of in years came flooding back. It was during my first three years at ISTS, when I was part of a mastermind/mentoring group. I was the youngest, least experienced, and surely most intimidated person in the room. I took a lot of notes and tried not to let my insecurities result in too much talking or avoiding asking questions.

The group was kind and encouraged me to share what was weighing on me (everything) and what problems I thought were most important to solve the soonest. So, I dipped a toe in and shared that I did not really understand our financials, was confused about things on our Profit and Loss and Balance Sheet. Thankfully, I got encouragement and offers to help which I took enthusiastically!

One person suggested we go to lunch and ‘talk finance’. A date was scheduled. At that meeting, after some good ideas, he leaned in and said, “You want to know the real tricks to making money? Horribly, he began to walk me through his method to avoid being caught doing a variety of unethical, illegal and my-core-value violating things. I was stunned and uncharacteristically silent. I acted like I was taking notes and nodded instead of calling him out.

On my drive back to the office, I reviewed the conversation to make sure I wasn’t dreaming. Was he right and was I being a prude? He was older and more successful than I was. I called a mentor who was equally stunned and asked me several times to confirm I wasn’t planning to follow the bad advice – of that, I was sure.

I share this story because it was a pivotal one in my leadership journey. At that moment, I knew that I wanted to be a businessperson who acted with transparency, one who did not do things that I would not feel good about being public. I used a double negative there, because I believe it’s easier to say “I do things I feel good about being public” than expressing what I work on NOT doing – things that don’t represent me at my best self or actions that require me to apologize and re-establish trust.

I am far from perfect, learning and growing all the time, and am grateful that I had that experience early in my career. Now I pause before acting or saying something, for just a second or two, and imagine my actions and thoughts are available for all to see and hear. When we pause, decide and take full responsibility for our choices, we demonstrate our core values. And, if we are lucky to have moments at a crossroads to re-evaluate our actions and choose those that make us proud, it’s a fast path to becoming more evolved.

And the person who encouraged me to cheat? He was asked to leave the mentoring group by others in the group who had my back, wanted me to be my best and with a courageous and evolved mindset. I am indebted to them!

– Becky Sharpe, CEO