If you’re in business for yourself – really in business for yourself, rather than exploring a hobby or developing a support network for yourself – then yes: you’re a leader.
You’re a leader for your clients and customers, whether they’re buying nine-dollar e-books, thousand-dollar coaching packages, or ten-thousand-dollar consulting engagements – and anything in between, below, or above.
You’re a leader for your friends and family, who look to you for inspiration and who – even when they worry about the risks any small business owner takes – are proud of you and awed by your determination, resilience, and creativity.
You’re a leader for the people in your network, the ones you support with referrals and recommendations for resources, the ones who rely on you for ideas and a willingness to listen.
You’re a leader for those on whom you rely for help and a shoulder to cry on when things seem hard.
If you have any sort of online presence at all – a website, with or without a blog, with or without social media activity – you’re a leader for anyone who clicks onto your site and reads a few sentences … and goes away with a little more insight, a little more hope, a little more understanding. Even if they never come back again, and even if they never buy from you.
And you’re a leader for people who see your business and dream of – and take steps towards – developing their own because of something you, and others like you, inspired.
I recently read a book given to me by someone I originally met a number of years ago. It was a virtual meeting, through email somehow, though I don’t remember exactly when or how it happened.
Steve is an Army Major who has served multiple tours in Iraq and, most recently, in Afghanistan; in fact, he’s on his way home from Afghanistan even as I type this. I haven’t asked his permission to publish his full name here, so I won’t (though I’ll send him a link and invite him to comment!).
Before he left on his latest tour of duty, he happened to be in Los Angeles for a training course, and I drove up to meet him for a highly enjoyable lunch. He gave me a copy of In Extremis Leadership: Leading as if Your Life Depended On It, by Thomas A. Kolditz. I’m embarrassed at how long it took for me to actually read it, but in the end – of course – I read it at the perfect time.
I won’t deny the book was a little difficult for me to get into, but once I was past the first few chapters, I was hooked. Kolditz uses examples from the military, police, fire, and skydiving to demonstrate how leadership in these situations – what he calls in extremis leadership – have certain characteristics that create better leaders than the traditional leadership development approaches in business.
Steve is a leader, and not just because he’s in the military; I think it’s something that comes naturally to him. Steve and his wife lead by example, and part of his leadership has involved allowing himself to be an example, through the work he does above and beyond his military service and the ways in which he shows (not just tells) people what he and his wife are up to. I admire how Steve consistently shows up as a leader – and shows up with a sense of humor despite grueling work schedules in difficult and dangerous environments.
Reading this book, I was brought to realize the ways in which those of us in business for ourselves really are leaders, and how that means we have a responsibility to those whom we inspire through our work – and, like Steve, through showing up as who we are.
We may be individuals working alone from our home offices, or we may have employees. It doesn’t really matter. We’re leaders, and for me, at least, viewing it from this perspective creates a distinct shift in my understanding of my relationship to my clients, my colleagues, and my network as a whole.
Thanks, Steve, for the book – and for your service and your leadership.