by Andrea Kayne, author of “Kicking Ass in a Corset: Jane Austen’s 6 Principles for Living and Leading from the Inside Out”
What can entrepreneurs learn from an unemployed, unmarried woman who lived more than two hundred years ago? As it turns out, a great deal. Jane Austen offers six tools for cultivating a post pandemic culture that develops, inspires, and sustains start ups no matter what constraints they face, whether COVID or otherwise.
Here are the principles of Austen’s six heroines that every entrepreneur should keep in her toolkit:
1. Completing One’s Own Circuit.
Elizabeth Bennet of “Pride and Prejudice” teaches us to have a solid sense of self so that we don’t get attached to failure or even success. Through her we learn the need to feel our own power from within before and during any interaction with the outside world. When she famously rejects Darcy’s first proposal, telling him that even if he were the last man in the world she wouldn’t marry him, this is one of the most important and empowering passages in all of her novels. She is okay and complete within herself. Like Elizabeth Bennet, entrepreneurs need to be self confident and self actualized enough to put new ideas and ways of thinking in the world without the need for approval or validation. Internally referenced leadership of Jane Austen challenges us to define ourselves irrespective of our connection to what people think of us.
2. Resilience as a Daily Practice.
Elinor Dashwood from “Sense and Sensibility” teaches us to respond to external tumult and adverse change with an internal calm, acceptance, and problem-solving resilience to be able to adapt, adjust, and keep moving forward, even when things don’t work. Setbacks happen. It’s so important for the entrepreneur to adapt, problem solve and move on. Austen teaches us how to be agents of change rather than victims of change.
3. Culture of Hard Work and Merit.
Anne Elliot of “Persuasion” shows us the importance of creating and working in cultures based on hard work and merit rather than entitlement and privilege. Entrepreneurs who develop and seek out environments that reward hard work and merit and help employees claim their positive results not only create more open trusting cultures, but also are able to scale and sustain their great work.
4. Speaking Truth to Power as a Norm.
Fanny Price of “Mansfield Park“, shows us why we must insist on faithfully following our internal moral compass and normative principles, even in the face of external pressure, coercion, and material consequence. Surround yourself and create cultures where people who can speak truth to power — even when it’s hard. When you help to promote a culture of constructive feedback through your actions, everyone benefits — especially the organization.
5. Institutional Rest and Renewal for Creativity, Productivity, and Longevity.
Catherine Morland of “Northanger Abbey” shows us how critical rest and renewal are for productivity and balance. Always protect and retain your internal childlike dreaming, wonder, curiosity, passion, and hope — especially in an external world that can be discouraging, disillusioning, and filled with despair. Nurture your passion, curiosity, and creativity. Putting new work in the world is contingent on rest, renewal, and balance. Moreover, creativity and out of the box thinking requires that right brain passionate beginner’s mind of Catherine Morland.
6. Humility and Learning as a Permanent and Prominent Part of Culture.
Emma Woodhouse from “Emma” teaches us to always be willing to learn from an internal place of openness and humility rather than from a stance of perfection and superiority. We need to create cultures that are committed to growing, learning, and searching how to get better. Humility encourages the entrepreneur to ask, “Why did that happen? What did I learn?” Seek out a mentor to help you become your best self, and when you’re ready, offer yourself as a mentor to others.
Andrea Kayne, author of “Kicking Ass in a Corset: Jane Austen’s 6 Principles for Living and Leading from the Inside Out“, serves as director of the doctoral program in educational leadership and is associate professor at DePaul University. She has taught, written, and consulted in the areas of empowered leadership, feminist leadership, emotionally intelligent leadership, and internally referenced leadership.