Before you strive to be the next Steve Jobs or Richard Branson, start with being a leader to yourself.
The topic of leadership can get pompous pretty quickly as names like Steve Jobs and Abraham Lincoln are bandied about. But if you're just starting out, this sort of inspiration can seem more than a little out of reach. You're just a young person with business dreams, after all.
Plus, leadership gurus have a tendency to speak in riddles--"plans mean nothing, but planning is everything"-- or platitudes--"life is a marathon, not a sprint"--which may very well be true, but can seem less than actionable to a budding business person. Isn't there more practical advice for entrepreneurs just starting out?
There is, and it can be found in Lead Yourself First, a new book by Vancouver-based leadership strategist Michelle Ray. In a recent post in The Globe and Mail, writer Leah Eichler summarizes a key takeaway: start by leading yourself. Leadership means knowing your own values and being able to translate that into a vision for yourself and others, writes Ray. Think of it as navigating a ship. There could be a hundred people on board or perhaps you're alone. How do you chart the course and keep from sinking?
Rather than glean inspiration from CEOs of Fortune 500 companies, Ms. Ray draws her examples from more relatable people, like Stan, a security guard she met at a nearby airport. “A leader is someone who is clear about their values and applies them on a regular basis," he said. For him, leadership has little to do with moving up the management ladder or even being in the workplace, but it's a vision even the greenest entrepreneur can adopt right now.
Figure out what you believe in and run your business according to those principles. You might be a solopreneur. You might have no revenue. You might be 22-years-old and scared silly. But you can still take the steps to become your own leader.
As Ray points out, you don't have to pull your nation out of a civil war or launch a computer company and steer it to greatness. You can just be a dreamer with a great idea and the courage of your convictions. And still, in a small way, you can begin to cultivate this essential basis of leadership. You can start by being a leader of one.
Do you agree the process of becoming a leader begins before you have anyone to lead?
JESSICA STILLMAN is a freelance writer based in London with interests in unconventional career paths, generational differences, and the future of work. She has blogged for CBS MoneyWatch, GigaOM, and Brazen Careerist. @EntryLevelRebel