There is a lot of talk at the moment about emotional resilience. I don’t buy it all but I do think that resilience was one of the qualities that I found essential in those first couple of years of starting up a business.
Resilience can be being so hard that nothing can penetrate you, or being made of the stuff that can flex against outside forces and not lose its shape…the subtle difference between impervious and strong being a vital one in this context. I prefer to utilise the second of these options for success in business.
All this talk of resilience really boils down to is what keeps you going through the tough times. For me the answer is easy, red wine and lots of chocolate! But I have a few more words to fill so I will give you the longer version too. For me resilience is that key element of being a leader which is, I think, the most important attribute to successful start-ups.
Work out what your centre is. Work out what drives you. If it is only making money then those start-up years are going to be tough. Looking at your bank balance each day is a challenging prospect. If it is only money that drives you then the equation is simple…lots of money in the bank = I am a good and successful person. Not much in the bank = I am a bad person and a failure.
If it is giving a great product or service then I can sit at the end of the day and say “that was a good day because…”. I suspect that this way your business will deliver consistently for many years and not stop delivering when there is money in the bank, if you are driven by the right things.
Work out what your leadership style is. Play to this and work with it, but be prepared to research and understand other styles and use them to bend and flex with the circumstances you find yourself in each day. Don’t lose your identity but be prepared to roll with the punches to achieve what drives you.
Learn from other leaders. In history great leaders often had all the characteristics we’ve discussed but also had a great inner circle to share the journey with. Choose a couple of people to share your successes and failures with honestly. These could be key colleagues or friends but probably best not family, if you are going to balance that work-life thing well.
Get a great mentor. Not someone supplied by a paid-for consultant, but someone you admire and is in the place leading their business that you want to be in three years’ time. Ring them up and say, “I wonder if you could help me please?” I have found most people say, “if I can, I will”.
Finally, waste some time. Shamelessly, lavishly, waste time on doing something that makes you feel good, something you enjoy. It’s your business and your time and it’s healthy to do something each week that helps you recharge your batteries. Worst case scenario – if everything else folds you will be left not with nothing but with you, so it might be a good idea to look after your greatest asset.
Sarah Dunwell is the founder of the award-winning social enterprise the Create Foundation, an organisation which provides training and employment opportunities to marginalised or vulnerable people. For more information, visit: www.createfoundation.co.uk
For more on how to handle the ups and downs involved with starting a business, check out Resilience: Bounce back from whatever life throws at you, a book by Jean Clarke and Dr John Nicholson