You know that old adage, “it’s lonely at the top”? I’ve been thinking about what that means in business leadership, especially when you’re not the type to become a megalomaniacal narcissist that has no friends ( I mean, I hope not. Far too much of that bullshit in the air right now… )
What I mean is that the further along you get in business, especially if you’re building a business based on clear values and a mission (aka, you care about more than profit by any means), the more it becomes clear that there is no “right way” to do things. No matter what your work is, if you’re building a business around it, your primary job is going to become “Business Person”. You better learn about it! You gotta invest in learning the skills of business; it’s not something that they teach in school (yet!).
There are a lot of best practices, books, and standards that tell you all the “right” ways to do things. And many of them are great– ask me for recs! … but at the end of the day you still have to decide your own path; none of those books are going to say “Yo! This is EXACTLY what you need to do.”
You’re going to reach a point, again and again, where you can’t see a clear right way forward.
Maybe you’re like me, and you rebel against doing things “by the book” anyway. Entrepreneurs are very very good at seeking out pioneer moments; that’s kinda the point, right?
It’s true for me that, most of the time, my favorite part of my work is the gnarly, “never been here before” problems that come up.
Until they totally aren’t my favorite moments, because, man, it can be exhausting and scary to feel like you’re blindfolded and throwing darts at an unknown target. This is when being on top actually means being at your edge.
Those are the “damn, wish I could just find the right book or article to tell me what to do” times. One of the things I say all the time to clients is “don’t create a monster you don’t want to live with.”
You know how you create a monster you don’t want to live with?
You try to create a business from a book or a manual. You listen to someone tell you “this is the 100% right way to do things.”
And you only look at examples of businesses in your own industry to find the answers.
If you’re going to hang out on the edge of “I have no idea what to do next”, you’re going to need a posse.
Connecting with other business owners, who own very different businesses, has been the number one thing I’ve done for myself to figure out what to do next.
Not because I find a right way, but because I’m hanging out with others who also know there is no right way, who can help me find my way, by telling me about their way.
This is why, though you don’t just need bossfriends, you need to cultivate a circle of bossfriends with other kinds of businesses. Businesses that are also kind of weird. That are also doing things differently. That also think humans are more important than profit— but still think profit is important. We share a lot values, but we’re all doing things our way and creating new paths. And, especially today, when business is about innovation; when options for “how to business” overwhelm, when you’re looking for your way: you want to learn, borrow, and steal from diverse sources.
Here’s a small example:
A friend of mine is the chair of a department at an art school. She took the job a couple years ago having been an artist and entrepreneur for years; after definitely being one of those people who taught herself “how to business”.
Her first term as a newbie professor, she started heard other professors complain about drowning under the weight of end of term critiques with their students. My friend, borrowing from her online business life, set up appointments in an online calendar, based on her schedule, and knocked out her 25 student critiques in a few days.
The career professors? The career professors were still using paper sign up sheets pinned to their office doors and sending 25 emails back and forth with each student to find the right time to meet. Because that’s how art professors schedule.
So, how do you avoid becoming the business equivalent of the professors with paper sign up sheets?
You get out of the bubble, get a posse, and work alongside that posse to take focused action on your path.
We’re inviting 6 business owners, from different businesses, to work with EF’s Director Kate Strathmann and each other for six months of focused action and growth. We’ll push your edges, getting tons of hands-on support from myself, along with a boatload of wisdom from businesses that look nothing like your own.
Want in? Apply here.