Being a business owner is hard. It’s like the old maxim. You avoid mistakes through your experience. You gain experience by making mistakes. By owning a business, you are guaranteeing yourself a fair number of mistakes. Embrace it. If you have never owned a business, you can never understand the struggle. So, if you are considering starting a business, be careful what you wish for. There is no experience quite like borrowing money to make this week’s payroll. Sometimes you will wonder why you bothered starting your company at all. Building a business is a struggle. You struggle to build something out of nothing. To impart some of your vision on the world. And to try and make the world a better place. As you struggle, strive to build a company where great people come together to make great things happen. You struggle, but you can also win.
In The Hard Things About Hard Things, Ben Horowitz likens running a business to driving a race car. When driving a race car, you must focus on the road. If you focus on the wall, you will run into it. By focusing on the road, you will stay on the road. Any given day, there are hundreds of obstacles lurking in and around your path to success. And as long as you focus your attention solely on these obstacles instead of focusing on your goals and vision, you will never achieve your dreams. Life is a journey. Keep your eye on the road. As a business owner, do not obsess with what can go wrong with your business. When obstacles occur, address them, look for the opportunity within the obstacle, and move on. And remember to always stay focused on your vision. Look ahead and keep moving forward.
You must develop an environment of open communication with your team. The size of your team does not matter. If your team consists of more than one person, then you must have effective communication to be an effective team. Nothing destroys communication quite like having a jerk on your team. Really, the only thing worse than having a jerk for a team member is having a jerk for a team leader. Either way, an argumentative, quarrelsome individual will naturally shut down communication from most of your other team members. In this environment, company issues will not be fully discussed, if they are brought up at all. Always be mindful of the chemistry of your team. If someone is a jerk, you must deal with it. If you are the jerk, you must change. Because no matter how brilliant the jerk is, eventually they will have to mellow or leave.
If you stay in business long enough, you will experience negative events completely out of your control. Life happens. When it does, your company’s ability to survive will depend on the health of your company. Good companies can weather storms. Bad companies do not. You can measure your company by the attitude and work ethic of your employees. People like working for good companies. People want to enjoy their work and feel like their work will make a difference for the company. And people want to know that they will be rewarded for the difference they make for their company. Ben Horowitz writes, “Being a good company is an end in itself.” And yet, there are so many small businesses that fail because they are not built to be good companies. Would your employees say that you have a good company? If not, start building a good company today.
Nobody wants to hear bad news. And nobody wants to deliver bad news, either. Phrases such as “don’t shoot the messenger” highlight society’s problem with blaming the deliverer of the bad news for the bad news. And it is safe to say that we have all done this in the past. As leaders, we cannot shoot the messenger many times before our team will learn to hide bad news from leadership. And hiding bad news from leadership prevents the organization from working to solve problems while the problems are still small. Instead, encourage your team to tell it like it is. Not only will that get your issues out in the open, but discussing problems with your team will engage more minds working on a solution. After all, that is what your team is for. So, ask your team what issues you should be talking about today.
It takes the entire time you know someone to build trust, and only a second to destroy it. As a leader, your team will trust you only as long as they believe that you are a person of integrity. That you will do the right thing no matter the situation. That is how you build trust with your team. In The Hard Thing About Hard Things, Ben Horowitz recalls a restructuring he initiated so his core company could survive. The bottom line: 150 employees would become employees of another company. And 140 employees would be looking for a job. Instead of going to New York for the announcement, a mentor advised him to go tell his employees where they stood. It could not wait a day. By showing integrity with these employees, he maintained his trust with the employees who would stay. How have you shown integrity with your team?
Starting a company is not easy. There are times of enormous stress. Times when you wonder if it is really worth doing. Times when you are just ready to quit and walk away. But walking away will cost your people their jobs. Walking away will cost your investors their funds. Walking away will cost you your reputation. So you keep going. And you keep losing sleep. It is hard to understand the stress of owning a business. Yes, you may have the next great idea. But reading books on leadership and business organization will never prepare you for having to fire people because of a bad decision. Or bad timing. There is no secret formula for success. Sometimes, things just do not go as planned. Life happens. Seek out a mentor. Find someone who started a business and succeeded. Lean on their advice. Because sometimes you will need it.
Who will replace you? The answer to that question is the ultimate gift any leader can provide. No matter where they are in life. No matter how old or young. No matter how long they have been with the organization. Real leaders must have a succession plan in place for their organizations. Obviously, the longer you are with an organization, the better you will be able to train up a leader to replace you. Ideally, you will go out on top and pass the baton to a fully developed leader. This situation should be seamless. But you must plan for the worst. Because sometimes, succession is unplanned. Life happens. Unexpected events occur. As the organization’s leader, you must plan for the unexpected. If you do not have a succession plan in place that can be implemented tomorrow, you have work to do. Don’t wait another day. Start planning today.
There is always room for improvement. However, not everyone believes that. But in order to continue to succeed, in order to continue to lead, in order to continue to contribute to the effectiveness of the organization, the leader must continue to invest in themselves. This is not the time to rest. Yes, you have worked hard to reach this place in life. But it is not a destination. The biggest issue with leaders reaching the pinnacle of their career is the thought that they have arrived. Instead, you must work hard every day to continue to grow. There is always something else to learn. Always be willing to invest time every day to self-improvement, no matter where you are in your career. Read a good book, watch a good podcast, attend seminars. However you best learn, invest the time. Because when you stop learning, your career is done.
Great leaders develop the people around them. They assess everyone, looking for individuals who have the possibility of developing into the future leaders of the organization. Because great leaders understand a simple principle. The future of the organization lies with the people of the organization. So, great leaders focus their daily activities on mentoring and developing more great leaders. Without this ongoing leadership development, the organization will never thrive beyond the current generation of leaders. Great leaders know that they do not have all of the answers. And when a team member has an answer, great leaders give them credit. They understand that part of leadership development is recognizing the efforts of their team. They empower people to press on, knowing mistakes will occur. Most importantly, great leaders celebrate the success of everyone on the team. Put your people first. Invest your time in them so they can succeed.