By Aileen Gemma Smith
Don't wait for leadership to find you. Make the first step yourself, right now.
"I believe in you."
These four words are powerful to entrepreneurs. They motivate us and help sustain us. And the first person you need to hear them from, as you set out to build business and companies, is yourself.
That's right. The very first person who needs to say and believe those words is you. The first person who needs to have the conviction, deep inside, about building your business is the person you look at in the mirror every day.
Building a business is hard. You never stop learning; problems you deal with change in nature and complexity over time. That's why everything comes down to believing in yourself.
I remember one day, early in the process of starting my business, Vizalytics Technology, a company that makes open data useful, standing in front of the mirror saying "I believe in you." Out loud.
On that day, I was the only person who believed. On that day, I was the only person who saw a path. On that day, I was the only person who wanted the opportunity.
I stood firm and maintained my grit and confidence as I continued on my journey. My belief in myself was the reason other folks started to say to me, "I believe in you."
This, in a nutshell, is leadership. You believe in yourself first. You carry yourself in a way that resonates with others and they believe in you too. They open their hands to help. And suddenly the journey changes because you are not alone.
Grit, persistence and a willingness to learn are not qualities brought on by owning an expensive outfit or having a degree from a prestigious university. These qualities manifest themselves in how you keep moving forward every day. They show up in the way you build a business one idea and one small win at a time, learning a little bit more and going a little bit further with each idea and each win.
Being a leader is about being brave. Bravery isn't something glamorous that generates lots of press coverage. Being brave means you take risks every day to move the needle forward. Being brave means when folks look at you and shake their heads, effectively dismissing you and your ideas, you say "thank you" and walk forward.
What intrigues me it that the same details that appear to one person as red marks or criticism are to another marks of excellence and proof points for success. I smile when I recall meeting with an investor who passed on investing in me because he was concerned I was "too old" to have the dedication needed to persevere and thought that my degree from the City University of New York did not indicate the kind of pedigreed founder he wanted to back. Another investor looked at those same two details as proof that I could succeed.
Leadership is about who will stand with you because of how you conduct yourself in the world. Who is willing to put up a hand and say "Yes, I will help you," and "Yes, I want you to succeed."? These are the people who will remain with us as we continue to evolve into leaders.
As a leader you have to set your own bar - for how hard you are willing to work, how much you are willing to commit and the grace with which you conduct yourself in challenges. This commitment infuses everything you do. It also sets the tone for the kind of folks who will gravitate toward you and the level of effort and commitment they want to make to help you.
My first mentor used to say, "Every day you have an opportunity to make a difference. Every day you have an opportunity to improve. So tell me, what are you doing right now?"
I still ask myself that every day.