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When you're leading an army of one; leadership for entrepreneurs

As a business mentor, I spend my time equally between helping entrepreneurs start up their dream businesses, and also helping leaders within companies build their dream teams. I think when most of us think of leadership, our minds first go to folks in management positions, or coaches of teams. These people are undeniably in a position where their success depends on their ability to master the art and science of leading people. But what if your team is you? As an entrepreneur, you have so many hats to wear; business development, marketing, copy writing, project management, client relations, execution…where does leadership fit in?


Well, in my experience, it’s not just one more thing. It’s everything.


Leadership is one of those funny words that means something slightly different to everyone, so let me explain what I mean by leadership. From a functional and coaching perspective, I’ve come to see leadership as a set of behaviors and ways of operating that create inspiration and the ability for others to see a vision greater than today’s reality. A leader must be able to mobilize others into action in pursuit of that vision and both equip them for success as well as provide feedback as the team grows closer or farther from the vision. A successful leader creates a culture of commitment rather than one of compliance; which means the team not only wants to achieve the vision, they also believe they are capable. A culture of compliance is one where people are taking action because they feel coerced, forced, or are just scared of the negative consequences that will ensure if they don’t.


Additionally, I’ve observed that there is a common moral or spiritual thread running through great leaders. Great leaders exhibit high moral character. They display honesty, integrity, and a sincere desire for their team to excel. Great leaders are compassionate realists. They may demand excellence, but they understand they are working with flawed humans and that they, themselves, are flawed humans. The best leaders have grace for themselves and their team, acknowledge missteps, and still believe in redemptive progress. Great leaders nurture mental toughness and resiliency in themselves and their teams, knowing that it’s not your failures that define you, but how you grow from those failures.


Does this apply to entrepreneurs?


Well...YEAH!


It’s very common for new consultants and entrepreneurs find themselves overwhelmed by the minutia and tactical demands of their roles. They may have clients, but feel like they need to be ‘on’ with the clients, so there are few people in their professional lives where they feel like they are a leader or have a leader. I like to challenge this perspective. I’m confident that there’s never been a time in your life when your inner leader has been more needed than when you’re starting up your business. You’re the leader AND the team! Not only that, who you show up as to your clients will determine your success.


Even when you’re starting out and trying to figure out the copy on your website, and which network meetings are most valuable, and you’re working out the bugs in your signature service offering, your leadership abilities are playing a role. You need to be intentionally cultivating your mindset and mental toughness because these do NOT happen by accident and even if you naturally have a positive mindset, your business will thrive to the extent that you expand your mindset even more! And resiliency…keeping going even when you stumble…is what will ensure you outlast your competitors and all the other people who start a business only to give up when it gets hard, or scary (and it will). What you believe about starting a business, likelihood of your success, and the kinds of customers you will have WILL be your reality…so do what you have to to make sure your beliefs are serving you!


I’ve talked at length about character on my podcast (episode 2) and how character will make or break you as a leader. I believe this is true for a coach, player, entrepreneur, employee, prime minister, or pope. My experience is that everyone has weak spots in their character; it’s just part of being human. What’s interesting is that both stress and success seem to bring out the weak spots. Everyone would do well to rigorously examine their character and do what they can to do a little better every day, to avoid what could be a spectacular and life-changing fall if things get really good or really bad in your business.


The other leadership success factors are just as relevant when you’re starting out as when you’re leading an established team. Metrics and feedback, for example. Let’s face it, your time is a limited and valuable resource and so like any limited, valuable resource you should be spending it wisely. Even if it’s hard for you, keep track of what you’re doing from a marketing and execution standpoint so you will know what to do more of, less of, and what to stop completely to attain the results you want.


And finally…grace. I could write a book on this, and probably will someday. As a concept, it means a lot to me (shoot, I named my daughter Grace so that should tell you something). There’s nothing wrong with having high standards for yourself and others, and seeing the gold in people can be transformational for them. But also be aware that we all…everyone of us…on some level battles imposter syndrome because we KNOW what a mess we are, even if we hide it well. The degree to which you forgive yourself and others and continue to believe in your and their value even during or after that spectacular fail is the degree to which you are showing them grace. And in my experience, it is THIS that truly transforms people, distinguishes leaders and is the difference between despair and hope.


Now, go getter that you are, you may be writing a to-do list of all these things and starting to angst about how to work them into your already full schedule. Relax! Other than metrics most of these are not things you do; they’re ways of doing things. It’s making slight course corrections or pivots in your approach and your perspective. Be gentle with yourself and focus on getting a little better each day. You’ll be amazed at not only the progress you make, but how much more joyful your business experience is. Oh, and the radical increase in your success is pretty good too!


Happy leading!

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