Take a quick second to acknowledge yourself.
Running a business of any capacity is no easy task. All its moving parts and the subsequent balancing acts of the leader fly under the radar — which after a while, gets pretty taxing.
So take a breath, and take a bow. And don’t resist the recognition like you’re programmed to.
As leaders, we’ve agreed to step to the front in the line of fire and step to the back in times of celebration. A distinct DNA is required to maintain consistency without becoming jaded.
A leader’s way of being has been articulated with some distinct and insightful works over the years (see The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, and EntreLeadership).
Yet, we assume that the way to be a leader is fixed, not fluid. We’re subconsciously cross-referencing our actions and behaviors against a perceived holy grail of do’s and don’t’s as it relates to leadership and management.
But as we venture through our operational journey, we begin identifying how much this limits us. Our self-expression as the operator and captain of our ship is not that of who we are the deepest level but who the books we read, courses we take, and seminars we attend tell us we should be.
There’s no substitute for experience, that much is clear. And I completely understand the value of holding general rules of thumb to assist in guiding us through the unknown that is organizational leadership.
However, if we stop challenging what is and refute in asking questions, we can no longer evolve. And instead of subjecting ourselves to all these rules, let’s look at what we can depart from to free ourselves up — and function with a greater sense of creativity.
Let go of your need for certainty
If you’re a business owner, chances are you’re a little neurotic. I was, too. My desire to know exactly what’s going on in every area of the business consumed me. The drive to maintain control superseded all else, and my team anticipated my constant inquisition.
While it may put you at temporary ease to feel like you have your business in the palm of your hand, the reality is that will never be the case. Your business has a life of its own, whether you’re a part of it or not.
Of course, you can and should do your best to positively influence it. But a more pragmatic objective might be to keep your business within arm’s length, supplanting that distance between with trust (in your team) and faith (in your vision).
Plan your work and work your plan, letting what’s outside of your control unfold the way its meant to unfold. Relate to the uncertain aspects of the business as potential breakthroughs, not breakdowns. Save the additional room in your mind that used to occupy certainty and leave it open as additional creative space. You’re going to need it.
Let go of your need to be right
Nothing alienates a leader much quicker than one with a burning desire to have it their way all the time. As the business grows, it’s shaped and colored by the people that move it forward — following along the path the leader paved.
Leaders who cannot open their minds and hearts to an alternative view or action plan have effectively sealed their fate. The business is as big as the leader. And a leader with all the answers is done growing, capping a serious lid on the business.
This is without even mentioning the impact this character flaw has on team members and senior managers. A team with a leader that’s always right languish in their curiosity and garner feelings of resentment, which always seem to surface with most inopportune timing.
Realize the impact of what being right all the time has. Ask yourself what’s more important — the success of the business or the size of the leader’s ego? Thomas Edison had a string of assistants to keep him grounded from his own arrogance, and he invented the light bulb. Make sure you allow your team and trusted confidants to do the same.
Let go of your discomfort (or affinity) for conflict
It’s safe to say that as a business operator or department head, you either despise or relish conflict. Very rarely are leaders middle-of-the-road in this category.
Whether it’s your team members, vendors, banks or partners, your behavior as it relates to conflict is either appreciating or depreciating those relationships — relationships you desperately need to work in your favor.
Some leaders can’t wait to pounce at the opportunity to call someone out that didn’t follow through on what was asked. But while there’s a need to recognize where we fall short, the way in which address it will determine whether that mistake will transform into an opportunity, or remain a stubborn bottleneck.
Conversely, leaders that cannot promptly address a problem in a face-to-face context invariably lose the respect of those in question. Hiding behind the phone (unless absolutely necessary) will only exacerbate the issue, relinquishing the opportunity to really resonate with the impact and disconnect.
Both the abrasive and timid leader severely lack one thing: understanding. Their relationship with conflict is self-centered, catering to what the leader personally prefers — instead of the best possible resolve for the business.
Take conflict for what it is — nothing more than a variance. Get comfortable taking a stand for the business, bear in mind the business needs to maintain its value system AND committed employees, vendors and partners. Ditch the tendency to dodge tough conversations or fly off the handle, and leverage healthy communication.
Let go of your obsession
This piece is critical, rendering all previous recommendations ineffective if not followed through on.
Our business is our livelihood. It supports our lifestyle, as well as many others. It serves a community. It stands for something larger than the people and products it’s comprised of. Naturally, it’s easy to get caught up in letting the business run our minds.
But what is our livelihood if we can’t shut it off for a moment and simply live?
What is it we’re working so hard for at that point? Maintenance?
This style of thinking leads to perpetuated emptiness, with each revenue milestone eliciting less and less joy.
Moreover, the things that are more important than the business, such as family and health, are subject to major risk of deterioration.
The business is only as big as the leader. A leader that is out of integrity in one area of his life will inevitably become out of integrity in every area of his life. So if the business isn’t suffering yet, it eventually will — as long as the other areas aren’t getting the attention they deserve. A well-rounded approach is the secret recipe, with balance and mindfulness being the key ingredients.
Letting go of the aforementioned items clears the space to let go of this final component. The business is precious, but it’s also a privilege — just like family, friends, and health. Treat these areas with the same passion and vigor that you do your business, and you’ll find yourself with even greater energy to take your organization to new heights.