Although being a leader can be a designated title, I believe that a true leader earns the label and we feel their leadership. Every one of us is a leader in some capacity, and, whether we aspire to a role of leadership, or not, we have a circle of people we influence. It’s in everyone’s best interest to use this role for good, especially because, what’s the alternative?
Whether we lead a team of people, or are a solo entrepreneur offering expertise, whether we have a large Facebook community, or stand in front of people every day as a teacher, whether we lead a group of friends, our families, or simply ourselves, the possibilities of leadership are endless and our actions do matter. What we say, how we say it, and what we do matters. People are watching, listening and sharing. More than ever, in large part due to technology, everything we say and do (and post), is being consumed by more and more people, quicker than ever.
A true leader, to me, is someone with extraordinary insights regarding ordinary principles, who shares widely, genuinely and graciously, and by doing so, influences people towards the achievement of a goal, naturally. True leaders know who they are and what they stand for, they have unwavering values and integrity, and they create an atmosphere of certainty and trust as they go about living, and creating and working.
Maybe the best leadership advice we all need to reflect on more is to listen to people, and to be kind.
While Googling in a quest to explore leadership, I found way too many courses on leadership, many requiring huge fees, being run by people who do not seem to be leaders. There were also so many “how-to” articles detailing specific tasks we should take on to become a leader. To me, nothing is as valuable as simply doing great work and being concerned with maintaining our integrity while delivering value. I did happen to come upon the below quote from Jim Rohn, and it really resonated as it addresses how leadership has more to do with our way of being and our approach to what we do and how we do it rather than the actual tasks themselves:
Be strong, but not rude.
Be kind, but not weak.
Be bold, but not bully.
Be thoughtful, but not lazy.
Be humble, but not timid.
Be proud, but not arrogant.
Have humor, but without folly.
I would add (humbly):
Be generous, without expecting in return.
Have vision, but accept new views.
In order to be successful as an entrepreneur, I do believe you need to be ready to be a leader. I have learned a lot about leadership, since starting my business in 1994, when small businesses were not applauded, and home based businesses, such as mine, were not accepted. I learned by being a poor leader, and sometimes by being a good one. I learned many lessons the hard way, by making mistakes and overcoming them. I learned by being a great employer, and by being a terrible one too. I learned that even though I was often made fun of, or dismissed for having certain values, that people were paying attention and following, and that they would eventually understand more, and adopt some of the healthier habits on their own. Through the decades of it all, here’s what I currently believe it takes to be a true leader, as someone running a small business:
Create a workplace you want to work at. You choose the location, you create the environment, and you set the culture. Some things are by design and decision, others are defined by what you do daily in the space. Around my underground home office, we like to share good food, try and grow our own tea, laugh a lot, rant even more and shake off anything not positive, investing the energy back into people or projects that feel good/right.
Build a great team. This applies to your employees (if any) and your clients too. Surrounding yourself with good people matters. I have never been more content about those that I am so fortunate to have in my immediate work family. I hire people with values, work ethic, great spirit, and kindness (not to mention, they can handle working near me), and hope that as a team we attract the right clientele – people and products we value, and who value us and our commitment to good work in return. You can have all of the strategic vision or organizational structure that you want, but without paying attention to your people, you will not be able to create the culture you envision.
Create trust. There is no magic here, but trust is the magic. How do you build trust? Deliver on everything you say you will. Be honest. Be transparent. Trust is earned by your actions, and consistency in action.
Collaborate. Leadership involves sharing of information, and objectives and then sharing the work. Collaborate with your team, and colleagues. Collaboration breeds good energy, good work and community. There is immense value in the process and the outcome. One of our first life lessons is “sharing is caring” – it holds true.
Give. Then give some more. If you are a true leader, make sure you are always giving back and paying it forward. My grandfather taught me so much in business and life, however, one of the lessons he taught me that I share most often is about the true meaning of giving: That is, giving without the expectation of anything in return. One of the reasons I am a sponsor, donor and board member of Project Give Back, is that through this work, I might have a hand in inspiring a future generation of enthusiastic, connected, philanthropists.
Care. I believe that there are more good businesses than ever (despite there being so much that is not healthy or happy in our world). The growth of Certified B Corporations demonstrates that the interest in being truly good is growing. 10 years ago, I had a very limited potential client base, and now, I’m thrilled to say, there are seemingly infinite people and products that are doing truly great things. Think about who you are making money for, and what your work is funding, inspiring and encouraging. Then be proud of it.
If you know your values and weave them through all you do, you will attract people who share those values. Those are your people. Listen to them, care, give, collaborate, enjoy, and….lead.