Last week I had the opportunity to host nine delegates under the auspices of the Department of State’s International Visitor Leadership Program in partnership with the Vermont Council on World Affairs. The delegates were specifically interested in learning about the economic, political, and social factors that influence development of small businesses, entrepreneurship, and innovation in the United States, as well as examining trends in small business concepts, financing, management, operations, and marketing.
The delegates represented India, Kuwait, Laos, Lebanon, Nepal, Saudi Arabia, Slovenia, Sri Lanka, and Tunisia. They were all entrepreneurs, business executives, and/or academic or political leaders in their respective countries. So, naturally, the conversation quickly turned towards entrepreneurship and leadership.
What I found most interesting about my time with the delegates were the profound questions they posed, and their insights into international business, entrepreneurship, and leadership. I learned just as much, if not more, from them during their visit, then they did from me! It was fascinating to me that across their various countries, cultures, and political and religious landscapes… the same questions that I ask myself and my team came up again and again. Let’s dive into some of these universal leadership questions. I’ll share my answers, but I encourage you to share your’s as well! A dialogue like this, founded on collective learning and inquiry, breeds awareness and understanding. I think we could all use more of that in our lives!
Universal Leadership Questions:
- Are leaders born or made? Let’s start with behavior. People have a natural behavioral style that may help them lead – perhaps they have a natural ability to build consensus, or a natural ability to drive towards results, or influence others. Those are all great leadership skills that can be learned! Leadership is influence. Everyone holds influence over someone in their life – whether a child, co-worker, significant other, etc. Yet influence isn’t always a positive thing. You have good leaders (e.g. Mother Teresa) and you have bad leaders (e.g. Hitler), but they were both able to influence others to act. The bottom line is that leadership is a skill, just like any other skill, that can be learned. However, it may be easier for some to learn if they have natural leadership qualities to begin with.
- How do you coach someone to let go of their ego and identity? I thought this question was so timely. We had just finished up a weekend of Project | U where we discussed letting go of who we thought we were supposed to be, letting go of fear of judgement, etc. So this was a perfect question. One of the delegates mentioned that in their country they had trouble with entrepreneurs who thought they could do everything themselves, were hubris, and didn’t want to let anyone help (or didn’t think anyone could). That’s pure ego. And requires a total mindset shift. These individuals want it all – the recognition, the fame, the fortune… But here’s the thing, no one succeeds alone. If entrepreneurs want to stop having a job as a self-employed soloprenuer, then they better wrap their head around succeeding through others and learn how to lead. Remember, leaders are made, not born. It can be a long and arduous journey to rewire the brain to accept help, to delegate, to let go of needing to be the “star” of the show. But let me tell you, it’s worth it. When you can do that, the business becomes an actual business and will begin to grow. And guess what? You’ll have more “fortune” then you thought possible and realize the “fame” wasn’t what you were after anyway.
- How do you build a brand? This could be a book… so I’ll keep it short. What was most interesting about this question is how the conversation has shifted from advertising or marketing strategies to brand building. No one is looking for the next great slogan or where to place a video ad, but how to build a following, attract customers, clients, and employees, and leave a legacy. There are countless ways to build a brand – blogging, vlogging, posting original photos and content on social media, becoming a thought leader in online forums, hosting a podcast, reality tv shows, magazine interviews, awards, etc. But what it boils down to is getting crystal clear on who you are and then apologetically putting that self out into the world by telling your story through relevant and thoughtful content.
- How do you decide what and when to let go? When you’re ready to let go of your ego and turn your self-employment into a business, you’re going to need people and you’re going to need to delegate. The first step is figuring out what you absolutely hate doing and isn’t the best and highest use of your talents. Start to outsource those tasks and responsibilities to someone else – maybe its hiring a bookkeeper or social media specialist. Those are the easiest responsibilities to let go of. From there, every month or quarter, reevaluate. What’s next? What is taking time and energy away from you doing your best work? That’s your next hire. The key is letting go quickly (you hired someone for a reason, right?), but still holding them highly accountable as they learn the job and earn your trust over the next 90 days. The business is your baby, I get it. But it takes a village.
If you haven’t picked up on it yet, building a business is hard. Leadership is hard. But you are not alone. There are amazing leadership and entrepreneurship networks around the world to tap into where you can learn from each other and push each other to grow.
What universal leadership questions would you add to this list?