By Sarah Swain
This is an open letter to all entrepreneurs, visionaries, side hustlers, executives and middle managers alike. There is an art and a science behind what we get to do. The science is the business and the business is in the numbers. Metrics, formulas, trends, graphs, trajectories, projections, performance, growth, productivity, losses, profit and anything else you can measure. It’s black and white, or should I say, black or red. The business is either running, or it isn’t. The business is either producing results, or it isn’t. The business is either growing or it isn’t. The business is either profitable or it isn’t. The results of the numbers tell us this, our feelings don’t. There is no grey area here, and how we feel about our business doesn’t have a line on the profit and loss report. This isn’t cold. This is business. The warmth of business lies in the art; the art of leadership.
Here’s the deal though, being a business owner does not make you a leader by default, just the same as being a leader to a group of people doesn’t mean you can run a business. Titles don’t generate leaders, behaviours do. Inspiration and feelings don’t produce results, performance does.
Through my observations of working for billion dollar companies, running my own business, and watching others run their own platforms, there is one thing I know for sure. In order for business, or anyone in business to survive, they must respect the balance between the art and the science. I have seen great business minds fall down as a result of their poor leadership skills and I have seen great leaders fall because of their lack of business fundamentals. I have seen visionaries quit their own vision because business feels too cold for them, and I have seen brilliant business ideas flop because of something as simple as a lack of interpersonal skills.
Successful, sustainable business is a dance.
The best business models I have ever seen, possess this ideology – If it isn’t good for the employees/clients, it isn’t good for the business. Meaning, if the employees and/or the clients and customers are not happy, the business has a decision to make: listen and change, or ignore and fail. Because guess what? Businesses with happy, engaged employees and happy customers win every single time. If you’re making decisions for the business, without consulting the input and overall experience of your team, clients & customers, your business won’t succeed in the long term. On the flip side, if you’re allowing emotions to create knee jerk reactions and decisions for the business without proper planning, strategy and roll out, you’re still heading for a metric face plant. Its’ a dance.
One thing I did at the beginning of 2017 when I knew my craving for entrepreneurship was nearing it’s breaking point, I did what most people wouldn’t. I asked for feedback. I surveyed over 30 people I had worked with or had personal relations with over the past decade and asked them for their feedback based on their experience with me in the categories of leadership, communication, business & interpersonal skills. In exchange for their honesty, I committed to not rebutting any of their comments, or engaging in any type of justification for why they may have had a sub-par opinion. Why did I do this? Well, it’s easy for us to get caught up in what we think we are really great at and ignore some of the tougher interactions that may suggest we have room for improvement. Naturally, we don’t like to acknowledge our weaknesses so we tend to steer away from those lanes. However, if you’re going to engage in business in any form, I can’t stress this enough. Your weaknesses are your blind spots because if you don’t familiarize yourself with your blind spots, it makes it that much easier for threats to your business and reputation to enter in through the spaces which you cannot, or choose not to see.
The art of business & entrepreneurship is to know yourself, your triggers & your blind spots. The art is to acknowledge your strengths and your weaknesses. The art is to be conscious of how you’re showing up as and being seen in your community. The art is the willingness to listen to feedback and engage your emotional intelligence before responding. The art is to stay in your area of expertise and genius as often as you can, while simultaneously addressing skill sets or traits that may pull you backwards. The art is surrendering when it’s time for you to delegate to people who have the required skills that you don’t possess. The art is knowing when to take a step back and evaluate. The art is continuing to learn. The art is accepting that you don’t know it all, and finding excitement in knowing there is still so much more for you to learn. The art is your ability to lead because your ability to lead affects your business, more than your business affects your ability to lead.