Nothing can be accomplished without leadership. Every neighborhood group and church needs leaders. Every book club needs to have someone to initiate it and keep it going; every family vacation needs someone to be in charge of planning.
All businesses are just the same in this respect. Successful companies have a leader — or more than one leader — standing behind them, ensuring their survival, continuation, and future. In fact, businesses can’t move forward without many leaders planning out the next steps. Leadership from a group of committed employees — not customers, not software, not markets — is the most important determining factor for success in a business.
A good business has good leadership. A great business has great leadership.
But what’s great leadership? Great leadership isn’t something you can stumble onto, or fake for an extended amount of time. Great leadership is developed intentionally; it involves constant learning and growth. Great leaders are hungry for new ideas and knowledge. They’re humble enough to know they don’t know everything. They work to improve themselves with education, training, practice, and discipline. The leadership development journey is one that is never done.
These common traits are recognizable in great leaders. And you may be a good leader right now; you may even be a great leader. But when it comes to a great business with great leadership, there’s one critical trait that’s usually overlooked.
Let’s talk about the people we spend time with.
So much has been written about the importance of the friends in our lives. Studies have shown that most people’s income is within 10 percent of the income of their closest friends. That’s a narrow bandwidth. We tend to share similar traits with those with whom we spend the most time. Our friends influence us.
For instance, if we see a friend growing and earning more, subconsciously we are likely to want to grow and earn more too. If a close friend is stuck or declining, sometimes it might feel more acceptable for us to do the same thing.
The Law of the Inner Circle
John Maxwell, a leadership author and speaker, spelled out the Law of the Inner Circle. This law states those closest to us will determine our potential as a leader. And if leadership is the critical success ingredient in a company, then they determine the potential of the business as well.
As business leaders, the people who report to us on our organizational chart are more important to the potential of our companies than our personal friends. The people we surround ourselves with at work see us more than almost anyone else, including our families. They have an enormous impact on our day-to-day lives. The people who directly report to us are the ones who have the most influence on the success or failure of our leadership, and therefore our businesses.
If it’s true that a great, influential leader creates other leaders, who in turn create other leaders, then it’s up to us to surround ourselves with people who will inspire us and encourage us to grow. We must then commit to growing these people as leaders.
This is our first job if we want to grow great companies. We must grow the leadership ability of those who report to us. It’s not just about focused training, new software, and great-looking trucks. Not even close. Remember: everything rises and falls on leadership. Even with the software, the training, and the trucks — even with excellent employees and an ideal market — if you don’t have great leadership, you won’t use the tools you have to their fullest capabilities, and your high-potential employees won’t turn into high-performing employees. Without great leadership, a business can be full of potential and still not succeed.
Great leaders aren’t born; they’re made. And they’re made during the day-to-day challenges and successes that we experience with our carefully chosen leadership teams and employees. Choose these people wisely, then commit to growing them as leaders — they’re more important to your potential than you know.