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by Marissa Levin
I recently participated in a Washington, DC conference that drew about 900 entrepreneurs. The attendees represented virtually every industry. The age range was expansive. As I left a session in which I engaged in a lively discussion about the challenges of a multi-generational workforce, I was approached by a young business owner who eagerly gave me her card, and told me about her “expertise” in generational communications. I asked her if she was familiar with two expert pioneers in her field, who are known globally for their deep understanding of generational differences.
Her limited knowledge of her industry, combined with her eagerness to position herself as an “expert,” prompted me to write this column for emerging entrepreneurs who are ready to set the world on fire.
Here are 10 valuable leadership lessons I have learned over the past 20 years as an entrepreneur.
1: You did not get here alone.
Leadership requires a 360° perspective. A leader must be aware of what has paved the way before him/her, what is present now, and where things are going. Keeping abreast of the past, present, and future is essential for effective leadership. Create a frame of reference for where you are today. You did not get here alone.
There is no room for a myopic view in leadership.
2: A compelling marketing message will NOT replace the value of experience.
You can’t fabricate 10 or 20 years of experience. You can’t “hack” it. If you don’t have the experience to know your industry or market well. find the people who have it and can make you better. Be careful with your positioning. Use terms like “expert” and “thought leader” judiciously.
Earning the respect of the real “experts” in your field requires humility, grace, integrity – and TIME.
3: Focus on the progress, not the perfection.
Perfection is an unattainable goal, and the quest for it will bring you misery. If you have an idea, create a simple plan and start to execute it. Writing a book to establish credibility? Just get something published. Do not fear failure. Do not allow the possibility of failure to paralyze you. Believe in your own ability to respond to setbacks.
Do not wait until everything is “perfect.”
4: Prepare for setbacks.
Things will happen, that you didn’t anticipate, that will temporarily devastate you. They may be business-related or personal. No one travels through life unscathed. The important thing is to always move forward and to know that you are stronger than your challenges. You have everything you need within you to move past the obstacles.
5: You are always being watched.
When you put yourself out there as a leader, people are looking to you to see how you behave. Your employees, customers, peers, and non-believers are watching what you say and do. Some will judge you harshly, and you need to let it roll off of you. Others will delight in seeing you stumble. You must find the internal strength to not be encumbered by the judgment. Their judgment of you is not your concern. It’s their problem.
At the same time, you must be cognizant of observations from those that matter, including employees, customers, and shareholders. Remember, leaders are always under a microscope.
6: Flexibility and adaptability are essential survival skills.
There are so many external circumstances that will be beyond your control. Industries and markets can change overnight. The ability to pivot quickly and to make hard decisions quickly will be necessary for you to sustain, evolve, and remain relevant.
If you don’t adapt, you will rapidly become irrelevant.
7: Prioritize your “health.”
The most effective leaders are healthy in all aspects of their lives. They nurture their physical, emotional, mental, intellectual, and spiritual well-being. Everyone’s needs vary. What matters is that you are aware of the need to restore and fortify all of these areas so that you can bring your healthiest leadership forward.
Your spiritual, emotional, mental, and physical health are a priority.
8: Find a peer group.
Business ownership is lonely. Seek out a peer-support group, such as a Forum, peer advisory board, or Mastermind group. They will become a source of learning as well as a support lifeline. You cannot travel this journey alone.
9: Protect and nurture your friendships.
Your friendships will also be a lifeline. Nurture them as much as you would nurture your most important customer relationships.
10: Brace yourself for change.
Your entrepreneurial journey is going to transform you into someone entirely different. This will cause some upheaval in your current relationships, so be prepared for disruption. People that seem to be close to you may not understand you, and may not be happy for you. This is part of the entrepreneurial process. Your support circles will shift. Embrace your growth and never apologize for who you are, or what your dreams are.
Remember….the happiness really does lie in the journey.
Savor the moments, experiences, relationships, and growth along the way. Always be open to new experiences and new perspectives. And remember to celebrate the courage you have mustered to follow your dream, and travel this path!
Marissa Levin is the Founder/CEO of Successful Culture, the CoFounder/CEO of Leadership & Life, and the Founder/Chairman of Information Experts, a 20-year multimillion dollar e-learning and strategic communications firm. Marissa is also the regional small business expert on ABC’s Washington Business Report, is a syndicated columnist for SmartCEO Magazine, and is the author of the best-selling book, “Built to Scale: How Top Companies Create Breakthrough Growth Through Exceptional Advisory Boards.”