Successful businesses require leadership. Indeed, the very structure of corporate business with its hierarchy, departments, line managers and reporting is built around supporting and sustaining this leadership dynamic. Becoming a leader means rising through the ranks and learning how to work the hierarchy. Running your own business is different, however. The lines between personal and business life begin to blur, and if resources are strained, emphasis tends to be on managing issues and problems rather than leading.
If it’s just you in your business, then the very idea of leadership may not even occur to you. Who is there to lead, after all? And yet, whether you’re on the corporate wheel, running your own company or just working for yourself, you will never really achieve your full potential without stepping up into leadership and you’ll never become a leader without starting from the inside out.
What does being a leader in your own life mean?
It means a balanced life, a life where you don’t feel overwhelmed or running from one catastrophe to another. You are moving forward, not only towards goals, but dreams, and bringing those to life. What’s more, you look like a leader. Other people see a woman who is in control of her health and home, and carves out time in her diary for fitness and fun. They see a woman who does what she says she is going to do, and doesn’t let people down. Perhaps most importantly, they see someone who isn’t afraid to say “no”, take time off or take responsibility, even if that means owning up to making a mistake.
Of course, it can be easier to spot if you’re not actively taking leadership of your own life. Some of the signs that this is the case might include:
- Your life is out of balance: it’s either all work and little play or vice versa
- You are outwardly successful but you’re questioning if you are going in the right direction, whether that’s with your business or personal life
- You don’t plan what you’re going to do outside work and feel that you’re wasting your free time
- You’re running around after everyone else with no time to yourself
- You have let friendships slip because you just don’t have the time to nurture them
- You have poor time management Sometimes it’s not time that’s the issue; it’s priorities, and you just haven’t got yours right
- You’re reluctant to pack anything else into an already overcrowded schedule, and yet you don’t feel you are getting anywhere with what you are currently doing.
The key to stepping up to leading your own life inevitably involves letting something things go. In short, these goals, projects or routines have to go to make room for what you really want to be doing. In business this could mean letting go of feeling that you have to spend every available minute on social media to make room for picking up the phone and speaking to clients and potential clients, however nervous that may make you feel. At home, that may mean that you let go of the need for the house to be spotless, or just hire a cleaner, and turn your energy to more important things.
You can only have so many values, goals and priorities and working out what these are is the first step to knowing what you are working for. If health is a priority, you need to make time for it even though you are running a business. No excuses. Other people fit in a run before work, a swim in the lunch hour or a relaxing twenty-minute yoga session before they head off to bed.
If growing your business is top of your to do list, then you need to be looking at your finances, chasing prospective customers and thinking with a sales and marketing head on, not spending time planning the company picnic or interviewing for a new cleaner. Decide what you want and then work for it. End of.
Tip here: your goals should be big, possibly scary and potentially life transforming. If your goal is merely to keep your desk tidy or get your company VAT returns in on time then you need to rethink and find yourself some more inspiring and exciting goals.
Ditch and Delegate
Don’t be afraid to dump old projects that just haven’t worked out, or old dreams that you’re getting nowhere with. If you haven’t had the motivation to bring your French past basic level yet, be honest and ask yourself if that’s every really going to happen. In which case, let it go without guilt, doubts or regret.
There will be things that you can’t just dispose of and this is where delegating comes in. Give other staff more responsibility, tell other family members they need to step up and help out more, start an intern programme and give a young person a chance to learn whilst taking some of the heat off your own back.
Leadership takes practise. Practise making quick decisions. Get into the habit of saying no, of dropping tasks that don’t serve your greater purpose. Learn to allocate time and energy to doing the things that are in your Big Life Plan. All this won’t come at once. It is a skill that is learned (why do you think there are so many leadership courses out there?)
Get in the habit of carrying out checks and balances. Are you still on course or is all that paperwork overflowing into your life again? If so, what can you do about it? Many of us are adept in filling new-found time with other non urgent but equally distracting things to do, and avoiding the big task in hand. If you’ve ever tried to write a novel or start a new exercise routine you may have noticed that suddenly everything, from a pile of washing up to junk TV, becomes more important.
John Lennon wisely said “life is what happens when you’re making other plans.” You may nod sagely but the real consequences of not taking leadership in your own life are that you end up on your deathbed thinking “I really wish I had done XYZ” or facing an overwhelming feeling that you’ve just played it all too safe.