By now you’ve probably read all John Maxwell’s books, the first thing you do every morning is tap on your Forbes app, you’re an avid reader of anything with the words ‘leadership’ and ‘entrepreneurship’. Nowadays it’s almost unnecessary to click the ‘7 Things Every Entrepreneur Must Do’ articles that are typical of every business website because they’re most likely to say things like ‘ Determination’, ‘Focus’, ‘Wake Up Early’, ‘Take Risks’, Drink Black Coffee’ and other advice that will tickle your fancy for the time being and get you excited, but contribute little to your daily entrepreneurial struggles.
Leadership is not a stroll in the park as you probably already know. Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown. It’s all nice and fuzzy when you’re looking at where you want to get to. You have it all figured out. Sometimes, you even know that it’s not going to be so easy but you’re willing to take whatever life throws at you.
I’m not going to tell you to be determined or to be focused. At first I titled this post ‘Effective Leadership for Entrepreneurs’ but I changed the title because not every entrepreneur might find these tips effective. You must already have that part figured out if you chose the lonely path of leadership. But from my experience, there are a few ugly truths every entrepreneur needs to succeed.
You must be open to criticism. This is especially difficult and you may have even tricked yourself into believing that you take criticism well because you don’t reply when someone criticises you or you take it all with a smile; proud humility. But be open to criticism in the sense that you chase after it. You need it. You know it’s good for you and you follow it. When you get it, you play it over and over in your head on a continuous loop and you try to catch the butterflies in it. The only way to really do this is to think little of yourself. To be able to ‘accept truth no matter where it comes from’. The current world culture is very hedonistic. Captions like ‘Be yourself and f*** the rest’ or ‘Don’t apologize for speaking your mind’ stem from minds that don’t think critically. People who don’t care what others think will never be effective leaders. Think about it. Think about the greatest leaders of all time whose names will be imbued in your children’s children. Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, Jesus the Christ… Whether or not you believe in them or their teachings, these three had something in common. They brought themselves low so that they could exalt their cause. When you’re open to criticism it means you’re aware the criticism isn’t necessarily directed at you as a person, but it has the power to affect your business or your organization in some way. Even when it’s stupid criticism, or ‘hate’.
Here’s an example. I’ve always loved writing. I remember writing my first book in ‘primary 3’ and it was titled ‘Chronicles of Bedeltephdth’. Yup. I kid you not. It was in this dull mud brown notebook and I wrote out copies of it so my classmates could read it too. Anyway, that’s beside the point. When I started blogging a few months ago although I’d been writing long before that but I wanted to create a platform where people who wanted to know more about how businesses worked could see the methods of others and have fun doing that. It was fun to start out. I bought this domain from WordPress, I became more active on social media and I was getting clicks on my site from every other country on the planet. My friends were a bit encouraging but total strangers were even more so. Then one day… I received my first ‘hate mail’. I was happy I was receiving any mail at all. It read;
‘Please your blog is boring. We already have many bloggers out there that know what they’re doing and your niche is not at all entertaining. Why would I read this junk when I can read Linda Ikeji’s blog. Take a page from her and sit your little behind down.‘
First thing I did was look up ‘Linda Ikeji’. I read every article she put out this year. Next thing was download every business app I could find. Even the ones I had to pay for. Then I upgraded my site. This person’s message propelled me to improve myself. Yes, you can’t please everyone and that’s true, but you can do yourself a favour if you’re in business and try to please as many people as you possibly can. So I picked apart the words of this ‘hater’ and caught the butterflies. My blog was – is? – boring to anyone who wasn’t interested in business so I put in a people’s column. We already have many bloggers out there… that’s none of my business as I’m not competing with them. Why would they read this junk when they can read Linda Ikeji’s blog? I have no idea! Take a page from her and sit my little behind down. I don’t know about my ‘little’ behind. Just kidding, but you can catch the drift.
There must be sentiment in business. Autocratic leaders will tell you that the first rule of business is to not be sentimental. That’s true for them but if you want to be an effective leader you need to employ some degree of sentiment. Only in movies do autocratic leaders look good. It would be nice to shut off your human side every other day and go around slapping people but when you need them to work for you, you’re going to need to work for them. You want them to ‘go into all the world’, you’re going to want to wash their feet first. I was about sixteen when I was a choir leader. If a single back-up chorister was depressed you could prepare for a most daunting performance. One person had the potential to usher in black clouds over the song. You can’t afford to ignore that one person. Sometimes you have to pull them aside, visit them when there’s no practice and talk to them about mundane issues. You have to serve them if you want them to serve your cause. If you lose your team member, you’ve lost a product of your hard work. You’ve lost a seed that could have led to a great harvest. You’ve shown that you are not a capable leader. Those who are still a part of what you’re creating will lose confidence in you and your competitors will see an open hedge in your garden. I’m not saying you should grab the basins and Dettol to rinse their feet but you must be able to show some empathy, demonstrate that you care about personal problems while maintaining boundaries and never let your team question your dedication to the cause. If you are not sentimental, check-in with yourself again. If you’re not deeply hurt when something goes wrong, ask yourself this; ‘Am I in the right place?’
Be omnipresent. That’s all. Whoever said that you couldn’t cut yourself in half obviously never heard of the internet. Now you can slice little quarters of quarters to go round for everyone. Be on Facebook, Twitter, Vimeo, Youtube, Tumblr, Pinterest, every slice of social media people will stumble across. Your networking skills must be sharper now than ever. Every single person that comes in contact with what you do is important to you. Other than that, you’ll need to be present in possibly everything you are leader of. Show a keen and down to earth interest in whatever your team members are doing. You don’t have to haunt them, just be there for them. Everywhere.
Don’t be too serious. There’s only so much you can do. You’ll make a lot of mistakes and your recruits will make even more mistakes. It’s all part of the breaking process. Don’t beat yourself up over stupid things you did in the past. Learn to laugh at yourself when the time comes.