You Are Not a Leader Until You Face These 5 Pains
Here are the five rites of passage that every leader must go through, why they're so difficult and why they're essential to creating the business of your dreams.
It’s not often that every business owner across the globe is faced with the same challenge at the same time. Although the pandemic hit different businesses in a variety of ways - some harder than others - it served as a telling benchmark for leadership.
With or without a pandemic, entrepreneurs face inevitable growing pains that serve as rites of passage into leadership. After nearly a decade of working with small business owners, influencers and entrepreneurs, I’ve identified the five most powerful rites of passage that, when embraced, forge them into industry leaders who will stand the test of time.
In fact, trying to bypass these five initiations lead to growth ceilings both in business and the development of the business owner. Despite their difficulty in nature, they’re essential to tapping into leadership at the highest potential.
1. Growing pain of rejection
As humans, we’re conditioned to avoid pain. According to Psychology Today, Thorndike’s Law of Effect states that all animals (including us humans) are hardwired to avoid pain. Also known as the fight or flight response, in a nutshell, we don’t like to do things that don’t feel good.
Related: Why 'Messy' Leaders are the Future
This truth also applies to business, but the entrepreneurs who avoid risk in an attempt to avoid the potential outcome of rejection are shortchanging their leadership and business potential. In business, that pain of rejection can come from a variety of forms. Ever get ignored after pitching a big prospect or have a sales call end in a giant “no”? Despite the sting, the willingness to try opens the door to possibility, a chance to improve and learn from failures, and develops confidence.
If the idea of rejection makes you squirm, set the expectation that it’s part of doing business. Another great tool that I’ve kept at my desk-side over the years is an evidence journal, where I keep track of all of my little wins and successes. Instead of worrying about a potential loss and allowing it to derail you, look at all the evidence that will remind you that you’re qualified to take the next leap.
2. Growing pain of uncomfortable situations
Not unlike rejection, our brains are wired to steer us away from uncomfortable situations in both business and life. Our brains see anxiety or stress as a hazard similar to that of something life-threatening. Once we enter into a scenario where we are facing a threat, the brain comes up with a story that defines the discomfort as bad or negative.
According to best-selling author and researcher, Brene Brown, our minds don’t take into account the benefits of leaning into prickly situations. “It’s he or she who’s willing to be the most uncomfortable can rise strong,” Brené says.
Avoiding discomfort in business can be a recipe for disaster. Entrepreneurs who play it safe tend to hold on too long to employees that are not a good fit, fail to ask important questions in the hiring process and run into a cycle of unpleasant situations with clients, customers and team members.
Instead of avoiding sticky situations, know they’re the cost of doing business and create standards and values that help you more easily address them as they arise.
3. Growing pain of difficult conversations
Speaking of uncomfortable situations, business owners who tend to avoid discomfort are the same ones who ignore the important conversations that are begging to be had.
Leadership is riddled with tough discussions. The common reasons even high achievers steer clear of a potentially difficult dialogue are fearing conflict, not prioritizing it, or worrying that it will hurt someone’s feelings.
Think of it from the perspective of parenthood. If a parent consistently avoided talking to their children about things that are hard to talk about, how would that affect the child? They would be deprived of the opportunity to learn, grow and be guided, ultimately stunting their potential.
The same goes for business relationships. Whether it’s a client who is overstepping their bounds or a team member who isn’t living up to their potential, a leader needs to have the courage to do their job - lead.
Instead of putting off a challenging back-and-forth, schedule a time to address it and lead with a positive and be kind and honest. When entrepreneurs master this skill, they elevate into a new level of leadership potential!
4. Growing pain of asking for help
Dictionary.com defines an entrepreneur as a person who organizes and manages any enterprise, especially a business, usually with considerable initiative and risk.
By literal definition, we are independent self-starters who are willing to take on risk. So what’s the rite of passage that separates an entrepreneur from a leader? The humility to know we can’t go it alone.
In my early years of business, I wore my struggles as badges of honor. I wanted the credit for every win and to be able to fail quietly. Not only that, but I was proudly the butcher, the baker and candlestick maker. In other words, I was a control freak who wanted to do everything myself.
The result: I was capped in my potential financially, emotionally and in time.
Although we may be in business for ourselves, we’re not meant to be in business by ourselves.
In order to scale both your business and your own potential as a leader, it requires calling in the troops. Whether it’s hiring a team member to get you out of the weeds of your business, bringing on a mentor to show you the path to your next level, or maybe even just asking a family member to help with the kids, asking for help is not a sign of weakness, it’s a sign of growth.
5. Growing pain of recalibrating your life
Most business owners open their doors with a sense of possibility. We have dreams for a brighter future outside of our work alone and get to work knowing that entrepreneurship will be the bridge to our life vision.
And then we look up, a few years (or sometimes, a few decades) later to find that somehow our math didn’t add up…
Hard work plus time passing somehow didn’t equal the dream.
So what do most entrepreneurs do? They work harder. It can be painful to take a pause and look at the distance or necessary direction change between where the pin is dropped today and where you want it to be, but it’s how you get to your desired destination.
A sure sign of leadership is a willingness to be rooted in reality and to right the ship. Some helpful questions to ask are:
Will this goal lead to my personal or business vision?
Is this decision in alignment with my values?
Will my current business model support my long-term vision?
Is the work I’m doing (and how I’m doing it) in alignment with me or does something need to change?
I had a client who came to me years ago with a very successful business by all measurable standards. Very profitable, strong team culture, recognized in their field. When I asked him what his vision was for his life, he talked about being with his kids more, a flexible schedule, and a lot of white space to write books.
Related: 22 Habits of Successful Leaders
But when opened his calendar and looked at his business model, it had him flying around the country to meet with clients. The company’s profitability was dependent on his personal time being spent with each client and there was no strategy put in place to change that. He was operating as though time alone would eventually get him out of that reality.
We sat down and did an in-depth recalibration session to align reality with where he wanted to go, and then created a new roadmap - including a new business model - to ensure he would get there. A few years later, things look very different for him and his company as he spends more time with family and has written two very successful books.
That was his knighting into leadership and despite his resistance to change at the time, it became the catalyst for growth in himself and his company.
Entrepreneur Leadership Network Writer