The entrepreneur’s path to success is assuredly circuitous. And to compound the issue, no two roads are alike.
More than one seasoned founder has uttered the phrase “If I’d known then what I know now, I would have reached my goals much faster or I could have sold for much more” as cliche as it may be, it speaks to the value and power of experience. Recognizing one's limits early and having the courage to acknowledge it and seek guidance is what maximizes value. It’s kind of that simple. Companies of all sizes seek help as they grow and status quo ebbs and flows.
As a founder, cultivating self-awareness early in the life-cycle of your business is your accelerant to growth and value creation. But as any seasoned entrepreneur knows, the obstacle is the way. Let’s take a look:
Since the late-1940s, when author-philosopher Joseph Campbell identified and named the characteristics and patterns of the central figure in so many classic stories, yet the insight remains timeless and possibly more relevant than ever as our world moves faster and faster. His 1949 book, The Hero with a Thousand Faces, has provided a framework for understanding an influential sequence of actions and events that leads the protagonist from dark to light. Our hero or heroine confronts some 17 stages—and many obstacles—along their journey to enlightenment, emerging stronger with a crystalized inner knowledge of his or her potential.
In business, the entrepreneur is the hero—of progress, of jobs, of innovation. Each with a unique vision, he or she must face an endless stream of challenges to bring their ideas or products or services to life. But it’s perhaps their understanding of their own limitations that’s the key to unlocking growth and value.
The market has quietly yet swiftly imposed excessive expectations on leaders. They are often held up as shining superheroes, capable of everything—as long as the status quo remains the same. But in today’s world, countless companies are facing anything but ‘business as usual.’ What does it require to pull a company up and guide it to the next level, and the level beyond that?
A reversal or absence of ego is, ironically, what’s required for great leadership and for steering the ship to the shores of success. But this doesn’t always come easily. A willingness to look at oneself—or business—in the mirror and address deficiencies or tackle inadequacies. CEOs at large companies can surround themselves with experts; they are experienced enough to know what they don’t know, but where does this place the leader of a small to midsize company?
When the hero is ready, the mentor appears.
—Will Craig, Author
When private equity enters the equation, the founder-CEO is often removed. It’s a rare few who are adept at starting, running, and scaling a company.
So, a self-actualized leader knows his or her limits. They can put ego aside and know when to ask for help. From learning and admitting that they don’t have all the answers and experiencing discomfort and even failing, they emerge as their fully realized heroic selves, capable of so much more than they ever thought lifting themselves and those around them.
They discover how to be more strategic than tactical; develop higher EQ; and can determine if their management style is limiting their ability to grow or laying the groundwork for big results and genuine success. Self-aware leaders delegate and ensure there’s responsibility with accountability, mitigating collective stress and anxiety along the way because roles are clear, boundaries are not crossed, and everyone knows where—and how—they fit.
Many founders and CEOs slide into leader archetypes who deliver fast returns—a state of mind perpetuates an ultimately dysfunctional approach to running and growing a business. The true hero emerges from an evolved definition of a leader as someone who is self-aware and cognizant of their constraints.
Therefore, dear founder and CEO, I challenge you to recognize and own your limitations and open yourself to expert operators and guidance—which can come in many forms, paid or otherwise. This expertise will probably force hard and uncomfortable decisions that you have been avoiding, accompanied by the acceptance that you likely need help to maximize your value. But that is okay. You are strong and smart in new ways, and even though your future is still not certain, you now have the support, tools, and understanding to be the illustrious company warrior and true business hero you were always meant to be.
A software developer by training, Noel is keenly aware that strategy, The 4 P’s of marketing, and product development are the pillars that bring synchronistic qualities of transformational leadership to the fore wherever he has worked. Industry experience includes tech startups, retail, news & media, manufacturing, agency, and higher education. Noel is also an active board member of the Chicago Small Business Advocacy Council.