“I Could, Should and Ought To Succeed; I Simply Had To!”
Leadership is all about navigating and overcoming the various challenges on the journey to success. It is about knowing when to be prudent and when to be bold, it’s about putting in the work needed to really understand what you’re dealing with in each situation, and it’s about respect—earning it and showing it alike. Indeed, one of the biggest challenges—and virtues—in leadership is composure, and it’s practically impossible to overstress the importance of having the respect of your customers, the industry and the community you operate in.
As straightforward as this all sounds, it can often be challenging to put into effect—and that’s why I’m writing this, as an extra bit of support for aspiring leaders on their way to success.
“If you want to change the world, start off by making your bed.” – U.S. Navy Admiral William McRaven
At the beginning of my journey, it occurred to me that there was no reason why the “impossible” should be impossible—why couldn’t I make it possible? So I decided that I had to maintain that state of mind and follow it through with my actions.
I started with cooking and decided to tackle some intimidating basics, such as properly cutting a pomegranate or pineapple. It may sound simple, even funny, but it can actually take quite a long time to get rid of the fear and decide that you can accomplish a task if you just find the right technique and learn how to do it. I long ago mastered exotic fruit, but to this day, whenever I cook, I still tackle the most difficult task first—and I’ve always taken the same approach with my work. When I was starting out, I took on the most difficult tasks first, and once I had successfully tackled those, I could do anything. Everything is easy if you know how to do it.
Of course, quite often, the challenge is not the task in front of you but the mental state that keeps you from going for it. So alongside undertaking all kinds of entrepreneurial responsibilities and dealing with the daily challenges of running a business, you have to also consciously do the work of confronting yourself and overcoming the obstacles within. There’s no way around it. Self-reflection and self-knowledge are both essential and inevitable.
To paraphrase Pythagoras’s Golden Verses, you should never go to sleep before you have reflected on your actions of the day: Before you go to bed, consider what you have done wrong, so that you may correct it or avoid it in the future; consider what you have accomplished and how, so that you may continue to do so; and consider what you ought to have done but didn’t, and make sure that you take care of it tomorrow.
This process of using reflection and understanding in order to move forward and grow as a leader also applies to developing and growing your business. To effectively deal with any challenge or obstacle that you find in your way, you must first seek to understand its nature, to understand what it is, what factors into it, and what it affects and how. The key to this is twofold: research and knowledge.
Flexibility, adaptability and innovation are also essential throughout it all. The way to success is strewn with wins as well as losses, and at each step, you have to be ready to use all the knowledge you have acquired along the way to weigh the pros and cons and be pragmatic about the situation and about your position in it. It’s important to neither underestimate nor overestimate the sense of your potential.
“Good things are acquired through toil.” – Aristotle
Reaching the top takes a lot of hard and smart work over the course of many years. You must maintain your focus on your goals (both short- and long-term) and have patience, perseverance and dedication. You have to be willing to put in the work, and you have to be prepared to make the necessary sacrifices that come with building a successful business from the ground up, which can include gruelling working hours, being on the alert 24/7, sleepless nights, missing out on fun times with friends, and giving up some of the freedom that others your age might be enjoying. None of this should be constant or permanent, but all of it will happen, and you have to be prepared. And while the work may be hard and demanding, every day is the next step, a new journey and new inspiration to keep going. The discipline required, the discipline you learn as you progress on your path, allows you to become even better at managing your professional life and, with every step, brings you closer to your goals. There is something to gain from every challenge, and you should stay alert and open to identifying the benefit in any scenario and every situation.
That said, to be successful and meaningfully so, you also need to ensure that you give back as well. For me, that was my motivation from day one. I chose to not just be good at my work but to also add value to the work to the best of my ability and to leave the community better than I found it. Because when it comes to succeeding in business and leadership, you have to ask yourself: What is the purpose of doing what everybody else is already doing? Why should customers and clients choose me if I’m not willing to go above and beyond? What is the point of doing whatever we do if we do not add value to it and strive to always leave things better than we found them? This brings us back full circle to the importance of learning and doing and pushing yourself, always, to excel. So give yourself the gift of lifelong learning and dare to adapt and innovate. And read, read, read! I read voraciously, from novels to treatises to the writing on restaurant napkins. You never know where you’ll find the spark that answers that thought you’ve had on your mind all day or inspires you to come up with something useful.