Leaders Need to Maintain Their “Get Up and Grow”

What do you enjoy the most – what gets you out of bed in the morning – about being a leader? What motivates you?

There are so many things. What excites me the most is watching our younger colleagues’ professional development. It is truly gratifying to see them as they work their way through their careers and become skilled at what they do.

Here’s an example. We just finished up the period of the year when all of the account executives present their brand plans for the businesses on which they work. One of our very talented account supervisors, who has been with us for some time, presented with such confidence and authority – crisp and spot on. I have watched her evolve into a true leader: heading her own team and developing relationships with agency stakeholders across all departments. She isn’t alone – there are many people like her in the organization, who are helping us build a world-class company. That’s what really excites me.

Another thing I love is going out to present and grow the business – at my core, I’m a business development person. I enjoy asking for the order: “What can we do to get this project going?” Also, along those lines: determining how the business can be strategically scaled and grown. Some people get their company to a certain size and stop. Personally? I love to grow things. Why grow the business? Because it’s fun.

Now, we talked about mistakes leaders make. Growth for the sake of growth, while worrying about profitability later, is a business fallacy. You have to be able grow and do it profitably. To me, growing an organization and developing strategies – and then executing against them – yields intelligent growth, not just for growth’s sake. That is a very big distinction.

Let’s move away from the business and toward the person. How do you grow as a leader and take it to the next level?

It’s very interesting you ask that, because that’s something I’ve been communicating out to my team.

About 3 years ago, I thought, “I’m in my mid-50s and I’ve been running my own business for decades – I have this. I know what I know and I’m going to ‘keep on going’ and run the business like I know how to run it.” And like that, I stopped reading business articles and books, listening to podcasts, and accessing any kind of content that would advance my business knowledge.

A year – maybe a year and a half – into my hiatus, I looked at my decision and thought, “What a terrible mistake!” I realized that things change all of the time. Even if you’ve been at it for 60 years, you have to maintain a commitment to lifelong learning and self-enhancement, because there’s always something new to be learned.

I think it’s critically important to constantly add new skill sets, especially in the area of strategy, that can affect your business’ overall trajectory. You also need to focus on the soft skills. For instance, I just started a personal initiative to learn all there is to know about PowerPoint, how to connect my computer to various video platforms, and other things that I need to be able to do. You can’t think, “Oh, someone else in the organization will handle that for me.” You should know how to do it. You should be in the game.

One thing I would say about leadership, especially in terms of a small organization like ours, is that I see myself as a rifle company commander. And what I mean by that is that I’m the commander, but I still “carry a rifle”: I sell, write copy, and do things that are execution oriented. No one who’s in an organization of our size should sit around and say, “I’m the thinker.” Well, yeah, you think – but you also need to be able to do. Leaders need to be in the trenches with their teams, not sitting behind the lines in the command tent – that’s how everyone wins.

Leading From the Front is an ongoing series. Look for the next article in the coming weeks.