Somewhere, around 3 a.m., I got the call. I heard the first few broken words mixed with shock, pain and grief.
My best friend, attorney and business partner had died suddenly and unexpectedly that night. It was too hard to believe. It was too hard to breathe.
He died way too young. At 47, it seemed as though he had his best years ahead of him. I thought there was more he had to say and do in this world. But it was not to be.
After the initial shock, I started to think of the enormity of the news. Then, I suddenly remembered a conversation he and I had just a couple of months earlier.
He said something like this: “Steve, if anything ever happens to me, promise me you’ll take care of my wife and kids…that you’ll protect my investment in the company.”
I said, “Sure, you know I will.” And then I thought nothing of it. That is until the early morning, just a few hours after he died. I suddenly remembered that conversation.
Fast forward a few months later, thinking about that conversation again, I was starting to feel the weight of the responsibility and commitment I made to him and his family mixed with confusion about what to do about it.
One day, it became clearer. It was one of those pivotal moments in my life and as a CEO. It was one of those moments when I recognized that I needed to change. I was in a place where I got uncomfortable about how comfortable I was.
At the time, we had a growing, mid-market IT company. We were a good company. But we weren’t great. We had our ups and downs. Two steps forward. One step back.
But, on this day, I decided that was no longer tolerable to just be happy with good years and unhappy with bad years. And, more importantly, as its leader, it was no longer OK for me to be just a “pretty good CEO.” Pretty good wasn’t good enough anymore.
It was time for me to grow up professionally. It was time for me to own up to the fact that I was a good leader, but I was not great.
Something had to change. And that something needed to start with me.
And, here’s why: the ONLY CONSTANT through all the years of my company’s ups and downs was… me.
Yes, others in my organization had come and gone. But I was the only common denominator. I had been there for all of the success and any failures.
I had to own up to this. And, it was clear: to move forward, I had to fix me. And I needed help.
Who’s Got Your Back?
Like many entrepreneurs, I thought I could do it all. I thought I had to be the smartest guy in the room. To master every job. To be fiercely independent.
And, mostly, to wear this all like a badge of honor.
But that wasn’t working for me anymore. And, with that realization, it became clear that I had to do something. But I didn’t quite know what. So, I went into action.
I put together a team to help me help the company realize its full potential. People that I could count on and trust. People that are in my corner, as Keith Ferrazzi says in his book Who’s Got Your Back.
Ferrazzi says to “disregard the myth of the lone professional ‘superman’ and the rest of our culture’s go-it alone mentality. The real path to success in your work and in your life is through creating an inner circle of ‘lifeline relationships’—deep, close relationships with a few key trusted individuals.”
He describes these people as Lifelines—mentors, advisors and confidants—“who offer the encouragement, feedback, and generous mutual support every one of us needs to reach our full potential.”
Over the next year, I built my own little dream team of mentors, advisors and confidants that were and are willing to provide the right help, advice, mentoring or just flat-out tell me the things I need to hear, whether I want to hear them or not.
They do it because they’re committed to my personal growth and to my company’s growth. They’re committed to our people as well. And their advice and friendship is absolutely priceless.
My dream team taught me how to tap into my inner strengths. Not my skills. But to look within me and find my own truth. They taught me how to lead from the heart. From a place of authenticity and true, power. The kind of power that lifts people up and taps into the power of our employees, our customers and our partners.
Because of my dream team, the company is growing faster than ever. Revenues are up over 40% year over year. And net profit is up over 600%. Not bad, if you’re keeping score.
But in my book, and more importantly, I’m a changed man. I’m a different kind of leader. I found out who I am and why I’m here through my company. My true purpose in life.
I learned the valuable lesson that I do NOT have to go it alone. And, best of all, I work now every day with the inner peace that comes from growing a great company that is worthy of the people who work here.
Steve Satterwhite is founder and CEO of Entelligence IT and the author of Above the Line: How the Golden Rule Rules the Bottom Line. You can find him online at www.stevesatterwhite.me or email him directly: firstname.lastname@example.org. Steve is based in Houston.
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