Leading your business comes with the challenge of carving a path forward where there wasn’t one before. It’s less like being handed a map and more like being asked to make one.
Part of us loves that as leaders. We’re comfortable in the driver's seat (and we’re not always great backseat drivers...)
But from time to time, being the tip of the spear can feel lonely. As leaders, we spend the bulk of our time developing others, but we don’t always have someone doing the same for us. The reality is developing yourself as a leader comes down to...your ability to lead yourself.
Ugh, I know, another thing to do.
That’s why I’m going to make this process as simple as possible—because when you become the leader your business needs you to be, your business will become the well-oiled machine you’ve always wanted it to be.
As I’m sure you’re aware, business growth ultimately falls on you as a leader. It’s on your shoulders to look beyond the task list and see the future of your company. Where do you need to go? How are you going to get there?
Your effectiveness as a leader is a key ingredient in the growth of your business. That’s why your development as a leader becomes a top priority.
So how do you take charge of your own development?
I’m going to give you just 3 questions to reflect on—but I bet if you sit down with these just once a month, you’ll find you’re developing into the leader your business needs you to be.
This question takes some humility and careful reflection, because your default might be to jump to the defensive in the bustle of day-to-day operations.
It’s easy to gloss over interactions with your staff or suppliers that perhaps didn’t go as well as they could have--after all, your leadership skills have gotten you this far.
But sometimes as leaders, we need a little bit of tough love to confront our faults and grow. Here’s two habits I find particularly helpful when it comes to finding honest insight into the places we could be doing better.
Let’s start with gathering insight from your own experience and perspective. I’m sure you can think of a moment or two where you weren’t perfect as a leader, right? It might have crossed your mind, but I don’t blame you if you don’t want to dwell on those moments.
The challenge for a lot of business owners is facing those less-than-ideal moments, reflecting on and organizing them, and focusing on finding a solution. (We’ll get to solutions in a minute.) It’s why I encourage business owners to establish intentional time for reflection.
Whether it was a harsh word or a project that was fumbled, these moments of faulty leadership need to be reflected on to be developed into actionable insight. If they keep getting shoved to the back burner, your development as a leader gets stunted. And it will show in your business.
Set aside intentional time to ask yourself “What went wrong? Where was I unclear or unorganized as a leader? How did I respond to my staff’s mistakes?” Look for patterns that might be causing these leadership blunders. Then, reflect on what you need to do to keep that mistake from happening again. Document your observations over time to see which areas are passing struggles and what areas need more coordinated attention.
Another step that can powerfully impact your growth as a leader is to commit to having feedback lines open from those you lead. You might feel like your own toughest critic some days, but you’re not always the most accurate critic. Why’s that?
Because even the most self-aware leaders can’t read minds.
Your effectiveness as a leader is heavily tied to the feedback you get from the people you lead. You need their perspectives, right or wrong, to understand what they need from you! Without that consistent line of communication, there will be a disconnect between how your leadership and their buy-in.
You probably already know this in theory, and you don’t need me to tell you. The real question is what are you doing to put this into action?
Remember that your company needs comfort and consistency for this feedback loop to be healthy, and that doesn’t happen by accident.
You need to develop a culture where uncomfortable feedback becomes comfortable. It requires:
Here we find ourselves at the uncomfortable, but all too common, place where there’s a divide between what we know we should be doing and what we are doing. The space between who we are and who we want to be.
We already talked about some of the things that might be stunting your growth as a leader–not being intentional with your personal development and neglecting feedback from your team are two big ones. But what other challenges might be undermining your leadership?
One of the challenges leaders face is that being isolated in our positions and not having anyone (besides ourselves) to hold us accountable. And as a result, our results don’t always line up with our best intentions.
It can be a hard pill to swallow, but leaders who lead themselves effectively are willing to judge their efforts by their results. Why? Because being willing to admit where great intentions didn’t produce great results will get you on the fast track for finding the missing piece.
Don’t get caught up in what you intended to happen. Focus on the result and work backwards from there.
So even when things don’t go according to plan and the people around the table start pointing fingers, you need to be the one to keep the focus on results. If you’re able to eat your slice of humble pie and tackle the issue head on, your team is far more likely to follow suit.
Has leading your business ever felt like a game of whack-a-mole? Like some days there’s just so many fires to put out that you don’t have any time to make forward progress?
Some days that’s just the nature of being a business owner—but if you find yourself consistently in this state, there might be more to it…
You might be trying to lead too many things at once.
It can be projects, people, or anything else that needs leading. No matter how good of a leader you are, getting spread too thin is a fast track to rob you of your effectiveness. When that happens, you need to delegate.
I’m sure you want your team to grow in their leadership potential, but that means you’ve got to actually hand over the reigns. Give them opportunities (and patience) to figure out lower-stake projects, and build them up from there. Their ability to lead themselves will pay dividends towards the quality of leadership you can provide.
You’ve got your insight, you’ve got your team—but what other inputs do you have? Being in a closed loop is a fast way to stunt yourself as a leader.
There are a few resources that I think should be a steady part of every “leadership diet”. But the key to all of them is consistently relying upon them.
Having shelves of leadership books means nothing if you don’t use them (and heck, might even raise eyebrows from your team if they feel like the boss talks the talk, but doesn’t walk the walk...) So let’s talk about these resources and how to rely on them.
Make a habit of seeking out books, audiobooks, podcasts, etc. that address your weaknesses. There are thousands of battle-tested voices out there who are packaging their hard-won (or hard-lost) insights and delivering them to you. As the saying goes, “Learn from other people's mistakes. It’s less expensive.”
One distinction I want to make here is that you’re not just looking for simplistic how-to’s. You want to be listening to voices that don’t just educate–they inspire you. They convince you that growing as a leader is worth the effort.
A leader that comes to the table well-educated and inspired is a dangerous one.
Like I mentioned, leadership can be a lonely place. You need others who have similar experiences to make your island feel less like Cast Away and more like Hawaii.
It can be a professional community, mentors, or something more formal, like a business coach. Whatever the option, connecting with other leaders in your kind of position provides you with a few valuable perspectives you can’t get from a book or a podcast:
Your company’s future in many ways relies on your ability to find a path forward. How you shoulder that responsibility as a leader can be the factor that makes or breaks your company. So I encourage you to take some time to reflect on these questions, and make a plan of action to become the leader your business needs you to be.