In the not-so-distant past, business leaders operated focusing solely on the bottom line. If you wanted to succeed in business, you had to leave your feelings, family, social skills at the door in favor of a strict focus on the numbers. I remember having the same mentality when I entered the world of Wall Street investment banking early in my career.
Sure, I was successful; I learned a lot about the world of finance and how to conduct business. The only problem was, I knew that living such a fast life on Wall Street wasn’t sustainable. If success as a business leader is due in large part to the sustainability of the business itself, was I really going to develop into the business leader I wanted to become?
A few years into my career, I found myself to be unwell, both physically and mentally. I got minimal sleep, had a diet that consisted mainly of crappy food and soda, and my personal relationships suffered simultaneously. Growing up in the Midwest, I was always adventurous and loved being outdoors. I started to think of the ways in which I could get myself back in shape and that is when I fell back in love with mountain climbing.
Over the course of the next few years, I would conquer the Seven Summits, climbing the tallest mountains on each of the seven continents, and meet some of the most amazing, adventurous, intelligent, and kind-hearted people along the way. I quickly learned that building an honest, strong, dependable, and focused team is what helps propel you to the top in life and in business.
I learned that being a leader means giving in to your fears and letting go of your ego. Achieving success is never easy, nor one-sided. There will always be people helping, guiding, and encouraging you along the way. Likewise, to help others succeed, you must be that same kind of guide for them.
One of the most important qualities of being a great leader is vulnerability. Being a vulnerable leader isn’t about being weak, but about being open, honest, and trustworthy. Employees want to work hard for someone they believe in and it is important to show them your true, authentic self.
Vulnerability can be empowering for many business leaders. It shows a certain strength that business leaders so often seem to lack. Being able to share your concerns about the fate of your business allows your team to grow together, especially in today’s economic climate.
The COVID-19 pandemic has thrown the typical business plan for a loop. Those leaders who have been open and truthful with their employees are standing strong. A great example of this type of leadership is New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. When COVID-19 hit, she led her country by standing beside her people and letting them know that whatever might come, they would persevere together. Over the past nine months, she has received global praise for her actionable determination in being such a supportive leader.
I am the co-founder and CEO of Denali Venture Philanthropy (Denali), alongside my wife Meredith. At Denali, we pride ourselves on developing an investment model that creates opportunities for entrepreneurs committed to spurring positive social change. We do this because we truly believe in the power of human connection and in using that power to improve global society.
Through Denali, I have had the pleasure to meet some of the most dynamic business leaders around the world, leaders who deeply inspire their employees and their communities. One great example is a company called Nisolo.
Nisolo is a Nashville-based fashion brand that aspires to create exceptionally designed, ethically sourced products that positively impact consumers, producers, and the environment. They are a Certified B-Corp with factories in Peru that employ thousands of local footwear makers who previously struggled to earn a living wage. By working with the community and treating its people as micro-entrepreneurs, Nisolo is pioneering a unique model for helping developing countries prosper.
Nisolo is innovative in its social impact practices. The company participates in the Lowest Wage Challenge, openly publishing their lowest wage in an effort to ensure transparency into how they treat their workers
There are many other companies like Nisolo and many other leaders like Jacinda Ardern. We can learn important lessons from them all. Leadership is more than just management. Management is a rather simple act that requires organization and the ability to follow directions. Leadership, however, requires the ability to influence others in such a way that they feel connected, invested, and feel like important pieces of the puzzle.
It is time to be open, honest, and vulnerable as business leaders if we want to develop the next generation of leaders that will truly move our communities forward.