Posted on March 11 in Entrepreneurship

Living Number Two as a Business Owner’s Mindset

Taking the Pressure Off Entrepreneurialism Through Servant Leadership

Recently I was out of town due to my friend Mike Danna’s grave illness. He’s family, really. Illness makes you think a lot. I lit out of town so fast to be with him that I forgot my computer.

Not being distracted by all the constant demands made on us by the technology and connectivity we’re so used to allowed me to pause and think through a lot of things. About Mike and all he’s taught me. About his giving, encouraging, even testing nature, teaching me everything I ever wanted to learn – and even some I didn’t.

Memories of my time spent with Mike resonated more than ever because—after my father and husband—he is the man who has had the most influence on me and been most important to me, both as a friend and mentor. This resonates more than ever now that I have employees of my own.

Despite my being, by all measures, successful, it had been preying on me a good bit that people rely on me for their livelihood and that of their families.

I’m human. Doubts sometimes creep in, as they do: “What if I’m not good enough?” “Am I trying hard enough to find new business?” “How do I make sure everything is done exactly right so we keep clients and gain new ones?”

I sincerely doubt there are a lot of business owners who haven’t had those thoughts, and these reflections had kept me up at night before I left town.

“It’s on me,” I kept saying to my husband, who’s been a successful entrepreneur for more than 20 years. “How do you do it? How do you not worry? What if?”

He’s been very patient, but no answer, however good, was good enough to calm my nerves. Then I went back home to Louisiana to see Mike and started fretting to my mother.

“You’re so good at what you do! Why would you worry?” she asked (hey—she’s my mother). And then the dime dropped.

“Do you feel like you’d be better as the No. 2 guy?” she asked me, to which I said that was always how I’d felt. “Your dad was that way, too.”

And it clicked. My dad was always No. 2. The tactician. The doer. The detail guy. And I am exactly like my dad. But now I’m the No. 1 guy.

So what have I tried to do differently? To begin with, I hired fantastic, competent people. That cannot be understated. And because they are so fantastic, I can support them. Mike was a role model for me in this. Every day I consider how I can best serve them as their chief supporter and cheerleader. I ask, “How can I help you?,” “What do you need?,” “What questions can I answer?” “Since you’re asking, I’d approach it like this …”

It turns out I know exactly what needs to be done, how to do it well, or how to figure it out if I don’t. I consider myself, in fact, a strong leader because I’ve built a collaborative team and I can lead them from behind. My daily goal is to support the most important people in my life: my family, my staff and my clients.

Companies often invoke servant leadership as a differentiator for potential clients. “Customers first,” right? But servant leadership of your employees, from bottom to top, offers a return on investment that benefits everyone. So ask yourself:

  • How have I served my employees today?
  • Have I served knowledge or gained knowledge through my interactions today?
  • Can I make a commitment to meeting a new employee every day, or learning something new about one of them?
  • What do these folks do? Do they like it? Would they like to do it differently and how would they do it?

Those meaningful connections go far beyond that moment – they can change attitudes. They can create trust and empathy. And they can become, if encouraged, a culture of servant leadership that benefits your employee family, your customers and your bottom line.

This blog is dedicated to Mike. He died Friday, March 6, 2015, after a long, hard-fought battle with cancer.

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