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I’ve heard there are only two types of people: leaders or followers

In my youthful dreams of what the future might hold, I never thought I’d attempt a business of my own. I rather liked the message of the old Doris Day song, “Que sera, sera, whatever will be, will be, the future’s not mine to see …” The life of the wanderer, the perennial traveler, was what most appealed to me.

I’ve heard it said there’re two types of people in the world: leaders and followers. A wanderer, by definition, is neither. Surely, making a success of one’s own business requires an innate bounty of leadership qualities. Yet here I am, the wanderer, making a go at my own small business, a writing service.

Just what makes me think I'll be successful in business?

I’ve embarked on a couple of money-making ventures before this one. I didn’t pursue them with single-minded devotion; rather, they were simply ways for me to bring in extra cash while doing my part to keep a home life running. But with no clear-cut goals, or even a desire to make anything of these ventures, they never really took off. They did bring in money, though, so with no overhead the money was just gravy over the top of my husband’s regular paychecks (Ok, husbands’ – one at a time, of course.)

So with no real grounding in being a successful businessperson, or entrepreneur as I’d rather say, what makes me think I can run with the big dogs? Just what are the characteristics of success in terms of making my way through the vagaries of business ownership?

  • In trying to answer that question, I began considering the differences between leaders and followers. My own ideas, along with those of others, place being a visionary at the top of the stack of qualities needed to begin and keep anything going. Visionary? But of course. Who doesn’t have the capacity to see the possibilities in what might be, if only some extraordinary thing could be made to happen?
  • Being visionary leads to another quality – stoicism, of being able to stick to something through both the triumphs and the trials of an endeavor. It’s that thing that Teddy Roosevelt meant when he said,

“The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

  • While we’re at it with quotes from dead presidents, John F. Kennedy said, “Efforts and courage are not enough without purpose and direction.” As a leader, I need to know where I’m going, and why. The how will work itself out once purpose and direction are worked out.
  • Surely a leader needs the quality of perspicacity, the ability to see through the fog of wishes to the clarity of reality.
  • The ability to recognize and seize opportunity is a useful trait for a leader or a business owner. When opportunity comes your way, you better know it and take advantage because it may not come your way again.
  • A leader is something of an iconoclast, a nonconformist, one who doesn’t mind breaking or at least bending a rule or two.
  • If you aim to lead, you need to be blessed with a healthy dose of self-confidence. Too much doubt, or a lack of faith in yourself, is paralyzing.
  • And while being self-confidence is supremely important, a leader must also be empathetic, sensitive to the feelings of others. Leaders need to be able to convince others to do something, and to do so, must surely understand what those who will follow him want.
  • My dad used to like to quote Shakespeare: “To thine own self be true.” Yup, I’m a daughter after my dad’s own sensibilities and recognize that integrity is incredibly important in followers as well as leaders. Live life without a drop of integrity and you will leave a series of broken relationships behind you. Practice integrity, and you will gain followers (and friends) on that trait alone.
  • I wouldn’t get anywhere if I lacked honesty, for it underpins so many of the other leadership qualities. You cannot long lead if you are dishonest, or at the very least you won’t lead people to where they want to go. And in leading, we want to leave others better off for our having been here.

There are lists of everything all over the internet. I chose not to look at what others said of leadership but drew out of memory the quotes and ideas of others who’ve made a deep impression of my life. I said in the beginning that I considered myself to be neither a leader nor a follower. And yet I believe that in order to be successful in my sole proprietorship, I need a sure, steady command of myself and an ability to lead others. How do I stack up as being a leader?

  • Visionary. This requires an active imagination, the ability to see what might be. I was born that way, or else was stirred to the depths of my being by the words of others such that I developed my own way of seeing things.
  • Stoic. I can exhibit that ability to stick things out no matter the odds, but I must admit to dropping endeavors at times before they’ve had the chance to play out. This, perhaps, is an area to work on, to incorporate more deeply into my being.
  • Purpose and direction. Even though my purpose and direction have shifted somewhat when circumstances have changed, I believe my overall purpose – to leave the Earth better for my having been here – has always been in my soul, even before I could fully express it.
  • Perspicacity. Shoot, sometimes I let the what-ifs intrude into the reality of what is or even what can be. This is another of those qualities that need to be worked into my way of being.
  • Recognize and seize opportunity. Do I always know or recognize opportunity? Sometimes only in hindsight, but I think along with age I gain a certain wisdom, and that includes recognizing and taking advantage of opportunity as it presents itself.
  • Iconoclast. This is one of those words I loved rolling around in my mouth from when I first heard it. And so I aspired to be iconoclastic. I guess I’ve been the iconoclast even when it wasn’t wise to do so, but some of those societal conventions I’ve followed have worked out well too. Being a mama, getting married, graduating from college, and earning a steady income from working for others certainly have worked. But I treasure those iconoclastic moments too – the jumping from one geographic location to another, choosing to work in a “man’s job” in the Navy, selecting unusual living quarters (from an adobe hut in the rain forest, to a camper, to an old boat), and now, a retirement career when perhaps I don’t even need the money, strictly speaking. Iconoclast? Sign me up!
  • Self-confidence. Ah-hum. Self-doubt is a big adversary of mine, but at least I know it. And identifying a problem is a step toward defeating it.
  • Empathetic. Most friends would give me a passing grade, but again, I need improvement here.
  • Integrity. I normally do what I say I’m going to do, have seldom gone against my personal code of ethics (I find that when I have, the effect is akin to sticking my hand in the fire), so while I do passing well here, there’s definitely room for improvement.
  • Honesty. While I don’t fall into the mode of brutal honesty, I do aim for transparency in all my actions. Self-deceptive at times? Guilty. Truthful to others? Yes, unless I think the truth would hurt too much. Then I couch that honesty in emphasizing the half-truth, while trying to sneak in a little bit of the criticism called for.

So, am I a leader? I know I can be a good follower when I believe in a cause and have great confidence in the leader. As far as leadership, I guess we won’t know that until all is said and done.

What about you? Are you a leader? If you’re engaged in your own small business and you’re achieving success, then I’d give you a big ole ‘A’. Maybe even heck yea.

 

(Interested in learning what your own leadership style might be? Take a quiz to find out. Touro University Online offers a short, free test to gauge your leadership quotient.)

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