The leader of one: Embracing leadership when running your own business

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Over the last few weeks, I have spent a lot of time in airports.  

In fact, I am in one right now and while writing this post I’ve heard ‘final calls’ for flights to Copenhagen, Istanbul, Paris Charles de Gaulle, London Heathrow, Amsterdam, Santiago, Tel Aviv, and Madrid. I still have another six hours to wait before my flight. 

Another long layover. 

In airports I like to people watch … and read. I’ve actually just finished reading Company of One by Paul Jarvis – a great book on why staying small is the next big thing for business. 

Although I have spent most of the time I’ve been traveling in front of groups of people, I still have to remind myself that in my business, it’s just me. I’m a solopreneur, or as Paul Jarvis would say, I’m running a ‘company of one’.  

I spent decades leading teams of people – some small and others pretty large, and yet just because I don’t actually manage anyone anymore, it certainly doesn’t mean I’m not a leader. 

Running a consulting, coaching, and facilitation business as a ‘one man band’ may seem like a solitary endeavour, devoid of traditional hierarchical structures and management roles. However, the absence of staff doesn’t diminish the significance of leadership per se. In fact, for anyone running their own business, it requires a distinct set of leadership qualities and behaviours. 

You can still be a leader, even if you are not responsible for a team of employees. 

In many of the leadership workshops I run, I often ask the delegates whether they believe leadership is a behaviour or a position. I then reinforce that leadership is not limited to a specific role or title. Individuals can demonstrate leadership traits and behaviours and influence others without holding an official leadership role. On the other hand, having a title on an org chart doesn’t automatically guarantee effective leadership if the necessary behaviours and qualities are lacking. 

Leadership is more about how one behaves and interacts with others, as opposed to one’s formal authority. 

It should never be dependent on the number of people you manage. 

It’s about taking ownership, exhibiting key behaviours, and inspiring others, even if those ‘others’ are clients, strategic partners, or external stakeholders. By embodying leadership qualities and displaying leadership behaviours, you can certainly be recognised as a leader in your own right, regardless of the size of your company. 

At the heart of running your own show is self-leadership. 

As the commander in chief of your own practice, you must be the driving force behind every aspect of the business. Self-leadership encompasses qualities such as self-motivation, discipline, goal setting, and prioritisation. Without official external accountability, self-leadership becomes even more crucial to staying focused, maintaining productivity, and achieving success. By embodying these traits, you set an example for others and inspire fellow solopreneurs. 

Being your own boss means having a clear vision and setting a strategic direction for your business. You have the opportunity to define your purpose, goals, and long-term aspirations. By creating a compelling vision, you provide yourself with a guiding light and a sense of purpose that fuels your drive and decision making. Your vision serves as the north star that directs your actions, allowing you to chart your own course and adapt as necessary. 

Without a leadership team to consult or a team of employees to delegate to, decision-making becomes the sole responsibility of anyone building a company of one. 

Effective leaders possess strong decision-making skills, balancing analysis and intuition to arrive at informed choices. Running a one-person show, your decision-making ability directly influences the trajectory of your business. Whether it’s selecting which projects or clients to pursue, or choosing marketing strategies, your decisions shape the present and future of your venture. 

As a solopreneur, your clients become the focus of your leadership. 

True leadership involves understanding and meeting the needs of your customers. By actively listening, empathising, and providing exceptional service, you can build strong relationships and foster customer loyalty. Your ability to lead through exceptional customer experiences not only ensures customer satisfaction but can also help generate referrals and build a positive reputation for your company. 

Running your own business demands adaptability and resilience in the face of challenges. 

As the leader, you encounter various hurdles, ranging from market fluctuations to resource constraints. Your ability to embrace change, quickly adjust strategies, and find innovative solutions is critical to overcoming obstacles. By demonstrating resilience and a positive mindset, you will continue to inspire others in similar situations and prove that leadership is not defined by team size. 

Leadership is closely intertwined with a commitment to continuous learning and personal growth. As a one-person company, you have the freedom to invest in your professional development and acquire new skills. By staying updated on industry trends, attending conferences, networking with peers, and seeking out mentors, you demonstrate a growth mindset. This dedication to personal improvement not only enhances your expertise, but also positions you as a thought leader within your niche. 

Leadership is a set of qualities and behaviours that can be displayed in various contexts, regardless of whether you have direct reports or not. It’s about inspiring, guiding, and influencing others towards a common goal, and this can be achieved in many different ways. 

While as a ‘company of one’, you may not have a team to manage, the role of leadership still remains integral to your success.  

Whether you’re influencing others in your industry, or simply taking charge of your own destiny, the leadership skills you cultivate as a solo business owner have the power to make a significant impact and shape the future of your company. 

Embrace the leader within you, and let your one-person enterprise thrive. 

Remember, hellomonday can provide support to every leader, reinforcing habits through curated learning and impactful coaching, and ideally helping leaders appreciate that leadership is a set of qualities and behaviours that can be displayed in various contexts, regardless of whether you have direct reports or not. 

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