The Missing Link for Leaders: 3 Ways to Improve Your Business by Improving Yourself

by Michael Keeler

Most leaders think of their work in two categories, working in your business and working on your business.

When you are working in your business you are engrossed in the day-to-day operations and are often focused on being a manager. Managers create structure and ensure that keys tasks and processes are running efficiently.

Working on your business means that you are functioning at the 10,000-foot level, defining strategy, analyzing finances, and ensuring the company’s alignment to mission and values. While wearing this hat you are focused on leadership. Leaders create a sense of freedom for employees and define a vision for the company’s future.

When it comes to business leadership, the scope our work is usually limited to these two modes. But there is a third category of work that I think is the missing link for leaders. It often gets lip-service, but rarely gets honest investment.

The third category of work for leaders is working on yourself.

Simply put, the limits of a business are often the limits of its leaders.

When leaders stop growing the business stops growing.

However, when leaders are continuously working to improve themselves, challenging their assumptions, and spending time on the tasks that matter most, then their business is limitless.

At Business for Unicorns, we live by the mantra of getting 1% better every day and as leaders, we are no exception to that.

If you’re ready for the next level of growth and opportunity in your business, then keep reading. I promise that if you take action on any of the three personal development strategies listed below that you and your business will be infinitely better as a result.  

 

Here are Three Ways to Improve Your Business by Improving Yourself:

 

#1. Mentorship

 

What is mentorship?

 

A great mentor is someone who is at least ten steps ahead of you in running their business and can help you by sharing what they have learned along the way.

Historically, mentorship has been the primary way business leaders have learned to lead. Businesses were passed down through the generations and business acumen wasn’t learned from expensive graduate schools, but from studying with those who came before us.

Did you know that 44 (out of 114) U.S. Supreme Court Justices haven’t had a law degree? I couldn’t believe it when I read it myself. Before Ivy-League schools became the norm, the Justices learned by being mentored by experienced lawyers. It’s a slightly random fact, but I thought it was relevant and topical. (Source)

 

Why it works.

 

Think about it. Why would you want to make the same mistakes that thousands of others who came before you have made? Just find someone who has been there, borrow their great ideas and avoid their missteps. A great mentor is worth their weight in gold, giving you insight into the challenges and opportunities around every corner.

In the absence of an actual crystal ball that can see into the future, having a mentor is the next best thing.

Chances are there are hundreds, if not thousands, of people who have walked a similar path in life. When you can find a generous mentor who is driven to pass their knowledge on to the next generation you’ll have a fast-pass to growing your business that will be a serious competitive advantage.

Becoming a mentor is also a great way to work on yourself. It is often said that teaching is the last step of mastery and being a mentor can be a powerful opportunity to examine the lessons from your work and pass them on to others.

 

How to find a mentor.

 

Make a list of ten individuals who you admire and would love to have as a mentor. Prioritize the list by ranking them in order of those you admire most to least. Then, do your research. Some potential mentors will have formal programs and courses you can take, others may only mentor people upon request, and some may have no experience being a mentor yet.

If your ideal mentor has an established mentoring program, sign up and start there. If not, you may need to court them first. Start by establishing a connection and expression your admiration — a quick email introducing yourself and sharing your desire for a mentor is a great first step.

You may need to prove your worth as a mentee by first offering to add value to your mentor. Can you help them with a project? Take on an internship? Or offer to continue their legacy?

Mentors want someone who is eager to learn but isn’t going to require tons of hand-holding. Be persistent and be prepared to give as much as you receive.  

 

#2. Coaching

 

What is coaching?

 

An effective coach is an expert in these three things: helping you clarify what you want, helping you overcome obstacles, and holding you accountable to meaningful action. Certainly, there are coaches who have additional skills and specialties, but all coaching tends to center on these three pillars.

The best coaches also hold themselves to the highest standards of ethical behavior and confidentiality, such as the standards defined by the International Coaching Federation.

 

Why it works.

 

Consider an Olympic athlete in swimming. Why do they have a coach? An athlete at the Olympic level certainly knows how to swim and has proven their skills through countless swim meets and competitions. So what value does a coach add?

The best coaches of Olympic athletes have a proven track record of helping athletes improve performance. They are also experts at guiding athletes through physical and mental obstacles, and pushing athletes to practice smarter and harder than they would be able to own their own.

The value of any coach is having an experienced set of eyes and ears outside of your day-to-day experience who can help you with the gift of external perspective. It’s nearly impossible to change a system you are part of — so having someone outside your system, who doesn’t have an agenda, is one of the most valuable tools a leader can have.

As a leader, you will likely only work with yourself and a few other leaders in your life. A great business coach has worked with hundreds of other leaders. They can help you identify trends in yourself and your business, share best practices from multiple industries, and ensure that you are taking consistent action on strategies that will lead you to your goals.

Speaking personally, I’ve had several coaches over the past six years and it has changed my life. Honestly, my coaches have helped me to challenge my assumptions, work through my obstacles faster, and avoid distractions so I can focus on activities that align with my goals.

Having and becoming a coach has been one of the best decisions I’ve ever made in my life.

 

How to find a coach.

 

Coaching for business leaders has been growing tremendously in popularity in recent years, but for many leaders, the idea of working with a life coach or executive coach leaves a sour taste in their mouth.

I’ll be the first to admit that, much like personal training, the barrier to entry to become a coach is extremely low. Ask three coaches what coaching is and how they became a coach you’ll likely get three different answers. Finding a great coach is like finding a great therapist or personal trainer — it might take a few first dates before you find someone you want to commit to.

My advice is to look for someone who has a proven track record of getting people like you the results you want. What to improve your personal productivity? Scale your business? Improve your work-life balance? You can find a coach who specializes in each of those.

Start by asking for referrals. If you have friends are peers who have worked with a coach, start there. If not, I recommend using the Find a Coach feature on the International Coaching Federation website. This is the membership association for most accredited coaches.

If you still haven’t found one, shoot me an email and I’m happy to help you find the right fit.

 

#3. Peer Groups

 

What is a peer group?

 

Peer groups are just what they sound like — a group of individuals with whom you have something in common. Business peer groups are often defined by industry, or size of your business, or the role you play in the business.

Regardless of the way the group is structured, they all have a similar function. Peer groups help you crowdsource ways to improve and grow your business. These groups give you access to other people who have daily wins and challenges just like yours.

Some peer groups are self-created and operated by the group’s members. Other peer groups are created by organizations that may require membership fees and an application process.

 

Why it works.

 

One of the biggest challenges facing leaders is isolation. It can truly feel lonely at the top.

As a business leader, it’s often not appropriate to share your hardships with other employees, and there is only so much venting your family is probably willing to take. So peer groups can be a magical solution — allowing you access to a group of other leaders who understand what you are going through on a daily basis.

If nothing else, a peer group can give you that amazing feeling of connection — helping you remember that you are not crazy and you are not alone.

Practically, here is how it works. Some members of the group will be a few steps ahead of you in some areas, and they act as mentors to you in that moment. Some members will be a few steps behind you in other areas, allowing you to support and mentor them. It can be a brilliant win-win relationship.

 

How to find a peer group.

 

I’ve been part of a peer group for nearly three years that is a feature of membership into the Entrepreneurs Organization. (This is not a paid endorsement, though I’ll happily take money from them if they offer. Wink, wink.)

Other well-known peer groups for business leaders are Young Presidents Organization, Young Entrepreneur Council, Vistage, and Business Network International.

Belonging to a peer group has been invaluable for me and my businesses. We meet monthly, so I have regular access to a brilliant group of business leaders who have gotten to know my business intimately. They help me identify and solve problems much faster than I could on my own and I am constantly learning from watching them work on their businesses as well.

When looking for a peer group, ask yourself what do I want to get from this experience?

Some groups are more focused on group learning. Others focus solely on networking and sales. Every group is different and requires a different level of investment of your time and money.

Much like looking for a coach, start by asking friends for referrals. If that doesn’t work, explore the list above. All of those organizations are time-tested and come highly recommended by most business owners I know.


 

What do you do for your personal development?

Have you ever had a mentor or a coach?

Have you belonged to a peer group?

I’d love to hear about your experience in the comments below.

This is also the moment where I should mention that Mark and I run a group for business owners called the Unicorn Society. Our goal for the group is actually to check all three of these personal development boxes: mentorship, coaching, and peer-learning.

Clearly, I am passionate about this topic, so please feel free to email me at any time to learn more about the Unicorn Society or if you’d like some help finding the right mentor, coach or peer group for you. I’m here to help. 🙂

 

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