Also published on Medium
As I’ve gotten older, many things in my life have gotten much harder. To be fair, some things are much easier—things like going on trips solo, cooking for myself, understanding my body, coordinating my shoes to my outfits, etc. However, I think we all can agree that, as adults, most of us have a lot more on our plate than back when we were in school.
I was an athlete all my life. Growing up, my parents made sure that we stayed active and engaged in team sports during every season (didn’t matter which sport, as long as we were involved). In college, I continued the tradition by playing basketball, mens volleyball, track & field, and even using one year of eligibility to play on the women’s basketball team’s practice squad. Now, I don’t tell you all this to prove how much of a jock I was in my former years; I do it to give you some idea of how “in shape” I always was. Buff? Never. In shape, though? Absolutely. I ate whatever I wanted, partied more than I care to recall, kept odd hours, and at times drank like a fish; yet by some miracle, I found myself thriving physically. Fast forward to the present and I find myself having to watch how many cups of coffee I drink before I start to get a tension headache.
Lately I’ve been reflecting a lot on my physical condition, as I’m coming off of a recent ankle injury and haven’t been working out as a result. Needless to say, my body is not where I’d like it to be. Because of this, when I sat down at my computer to do a bit of writing tonight I realized that leadership—especially in new/small businesses—is a lot like becoming an official adult.
As an adult, you can (for the most part) choose how to live your life. You can eat what you want, party, drink, exercise how little/how much you want, and spend your free time building whatever habits you please. Each of these choices adds up to create the full picture of who you become as an adult. Entrepreneurs and business leaders face some of the same choices. You have the ability to lead in whatever style you choose—you can be authoritative/controlling, or you can be empowering & trusting. You can choose to focus on building culture, or you can choose not to. You can embrace feedback or be retaliatory. These choices seem obvious from the sideline when I frame them as such, but when you’re in it, it’s sometimes feels as subtle as choosing between making a healthy dinner or going out to grab some fast food. As a leader, you choose what habits you develop for not only yourself, but your team as well. If you’re approaching your role from a place of self-interest or laziness, your team will reflect that. If you’re disciplined and dedicated to being your best self, your team will likely follow in-kind. And just as you cannot develop muscles without feeding them vital nutrients, flexing & straining them, you cannot develop people without empowering and inspiring them to solve the tough challenges around them.
Neither of the disciplined paths is easy. Neither will always be pleasant. They are, however, by far the most rewarding. So stop indulging in convenient, short-term fixes and think of every thing that you do through the lens of what is best in the long run. This is the basis of a scalable business as much as it is the basis of a long and healthy life.