26th July 2018 Sarah Downs

Leadership Lessons From Running My Own Consultancy Business

At the May 2018 annual Leadercast conference, Neil Clark, RAF pilot and CEO at Human Factors Business IHF Ltd said, “Leadership is a behaviour, not a position.” This resonated with me.

Many people that I invite to Leadercast say they haven’t got a leadership title or that they are not leaders. We end up in a conversation about how you don’t need to be a manager to be a leader. When you run your own business, you might not be a manager of a team but you can be a leader. It’s about being self-aware, leading yourself before you can lead others.

“Become the kind of leader that people would follow voluntarily; even if you had no title or position” Brian Tracy

What is your idea of a leader?

It often comes down to who we imagine a leader to be. If you look at your group of friends, for instance, you know the ones that are leaders. You will have met people who are quite happy to take responsibility, step up and use their initiative. People can quietly lead too. You don’t need to be outgoing or loud to be a leader.

Sometimes, there is the misconception that your voice needs to be louder than everyone else’s to be seen as the leader. “Public victories follow lots of victories won in private,” Dr Tharaka noted at Leadercast this year. A lot of hard work goes on behind the scenes for leaders who are publicly successful today.

Dr Mae Jemison talks about how leadership is like having a place at the table. If you are fortunate to have that place – whether it is in a boardroom or in your family – use it! You could support, help and influence the people around you with your place at the table. What is your purpose (or why) now that you are at the table?

Knowing your ‘why’ in leadership

Simon Sinek does great work on how to find your ‘why’. Not everyone knows their ‘why’. Once you find it, your everyday decisions should align with your ‘why’. If you are exhausted because you are throwing your energy into something, pause and ask if what you are doing aligns with your ‘why’. If it does, then it’s OK.  It could be the boost you need to move forward. If not, then you should revisit your motivations for doing what you’re doing.

 

When I started my business, I listened to a lot of podcasts including ones about leadership. It quickly became obvious to me that as a business owner, you have to be very clear about your ‘why’. Why do you do what you do?

My ‘why’ is definitely about helping people. When I look back at my career, I see that it has always been about that. Every job and voluntary position I have held has been about people. Jim Loehr at Leadercast said, “Align your life and energy with your why.” My career journey suggests that this is true for me.

Being a leader in my business

In running my business, I am committed to helping people. It’s all about my clients and what they need to succeed. For instance, if I felt that I didn’t have the right skills or network to help a potential client, I’ll pass the business to one of my associates who is better suited. It’s not about winning all the work. My goal is always to make a success of the work I’ve won.

Possibly the most valuable lesson I’ve learned in business is to be comfortable asking for help. It was a hard lesson because as a new business owner, I felt that other people believed I shouldn’t need to ask for help. For me, leadership is very much about being self-aware. It means knowing when to get support outside of myself to make progress. Rather than going it alone, I’ve built a supportive network of fellow business owners and mentors.

I’m often in a position where I’m leading my clients through business decisions. Sometimes, they have personal challenges that impact their business journey. I encourage and support them through that. The more you ask for help, the more comfortable it becomes to ask.

Leadership Lessons from Running My Own Consultancy Business

Challenge your own leadership

One of the greatest leadership skills is to be able to step outside yourself and challenge what you do. You could have people in your life that can ask you difficult questions to keep you in check – this is highly valuable as a leader. A few years ago at Leadercast, Kat Cole, COO and President of FOCUS brand (North America) described an interesting rule for challenging her own leadership. She called it, The Hot Shot Rule.

In The Hot Shot Rule, you imagine that you are away from work and a hot shot in your organisation has the opportunity to look over your work. What would they see that you could do better? What areas would need attention?

Kat explained that this rule works well for all aspects of our lives. A hot shot might see how you could manage your time better, be a better mother, or a better friend. Obviously, trying to be better at everything all at once is overwhelming so Kat picks one thing at a time to improve over time. This rule really resonated with me. It’s been almost three years ago that I heard it and I remember it well!

Being a leader could be a lonely place, even if you have a big team to manage. But you don’t need to be alone. Leadership thrives on self-awareness, support and being able to challenge yourself to make small and big improvements. Like Andy Stanley said, “The person in the mirror is counting on you.”

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