There are really only two substantial and sustainable competitive advantages that are within your control.
They are: 1) You (as Leader) and 2) Your Culture.
You’ve heard people say it many times: It all starts with you.
As the founder (and CEO) of a new company (talking to startup founders here, but this can also apply to seasoned CEOs) — your job is not just to focus on growing your business, you must also focus on growing yourself. This takes a deep commitment to understanding yourself - how you think, how you act, your strengths, your blind spots, and your leadership gaps. It also takes a deep commitment to working on yourself.
The more you invest in your own leadership skills (yes, it’s an investment) — the better you will be at inspiring your people, creating and seizing opportunities, and handling problems and challenges.
Here are a few things you can do to push yourself towards self-mastery and leadership excellence:
1. Implement a leadership development plan. Via self-reflection, asking for feedback and/or 360 degree reviews, determine what behaviors or skills you want to improve and then create (and stick to) a plan to do so.
2. Practice self-care. It is your job to optimize yourself for peak performance and to bring a healthy, creative, and productive YOU to work each day. Building a sustainable life for yourself and your employees is crucial to building a sustainable business.
3. Hire a coach. Growing yourself into the best leader you can be while also growing your company is hard. Having an accountability and thought partner is a wise investment.
The second, sustainable competitive advantage you can create is a strong, positive company culture. Not to beat a dead horse here, but it all begins with you, first and foremost. Leading a company is akin to being a parent — i.e. the kids are watching, and most likely mirroring, everything you do.
Even when you think no one is paying attention, they are. They are watching what you do to signal what is acceptable behavior - how they should act and interact, if they should burn the midnight oil, if they should treat Mondays like good days, etc.
There are many things that go into creating a strong company culture. Here are just a few things you can do to shape and sustain a culture that helps your employees and business to thrive:
1. Be thoughtful about your company’s core values. No copying and pasting from the websites of the companies you admire most! Have explanations for, and discussions around, what each value means, and then “Walk the Talk” as the leader.
2. Stay consciously focused on maintaining a foundation of trust. Lead from an authentic place and your team will follow. Trust in the A-team you hired and they will, in turn, trust you and each other.
3. Promote a culture of learning. Practice and preach growth mindset and develop a feedback-seeking culture by asking for feedback as much as you give it.
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