It’s true in small business that when you’re standing still, you’re really going backwards. The same applies to personal growth. If you’re not continually evolving yourself, how can you expect your business to move forward?
For me, that means I need constant challenge in my life, to fuel my fire to create and innovate in the dozens of small businesses I’ve founded. My latest is Small Is the New Big, the renovation-based disruptor business that’s helping to create affordable housing and also generating a revenue stream for people who want to add micro-apartments to underutilised homes. In total, I’ve initiated 28 businesses in 28 years – some successful, others less so – and I’ve picked up what I believe are a few useful clues along the way.
The first thing I’ll say is that challenge that leads to meaningful change is always bloody uncomfortable. I’ve run marathons all over the world; completed intensive personal development workshops; done stints of 10 consecutive days of totally silent meditation; even an incredibly confronting but ultimately rewarding couples’ retreat.
Each time I’ve forced myself to step outside my comfort zone, because that’s the only place that meaningful change happens. I’ve had spiritual awakenings, incredible personal breakthroughs, and achieved totally natural highs. Every time I expose more layers of “the onion”, only to discover that each is thicker and stronger than the last. That translates to more challenge and greater discomfort, but also bigger potential gains.
Crucially, every personal breakthrough brings rewards back to my businesses, and the people who work in them. One key development has been to acknowledge my ego and learn how to rein it in. Yes, it can be a useful tool when presenting the in-person and (more recently) video-based seminars that are the key customer acquisition tool for Small Is the New Big. But as a big sign at my CrossFit says, “Your ego is not your amigo” and I now know there are times when I need to take a big step back and allow others to shine.
Although it may be your business and your baby, it doesn’t need to be shackled to your own development journey. If you have your ego in check, there’s great power and benefits in handing over trust to others. Acknowledge your own limitations and recruit people who are better than you, then empower them to do what you can’t.
As Australian cricket coach Justin Langer says, “I’ve never been to Harvard, but I employ plenty of people who have.”
By surrendering control of components of the business to others who are better-qualified, you’re free to work on the business, rather than in it. This is what being a leader looks like, rather than a controller.
I like to refer to my team not as “staff”, which infers they’re just there to get paid, but as ‘talent’. In my opinion, if you’ve got “staff” rather than “talent”, then you’re just a business owner. If you’ve got “talent” working for you, you’re a genuine leader.
Another key learning has been to show empathy to my team and project a bit of vulnerability. I have strengths, but also weaknesses. By owning those weaknesses, your team understands you’re just like them. They respond by putting greater trust in you.
These are just a few of the lessons I’ve learned along what has been an extremely tumultuous path. Everyone’s journey is different but what I can say for certain is that if you’re not regularly working on yourself, you could be negating all the hard work you put into your business.
Ian Ugarte, Founder, Small is the New Big