Entrepreneurs: Remember That Who You Spend Time With Is Who You Become
This past weekend, I had the incredible pleasure of watching my best friend, Dr. Andrew Wolf, graduate from medical school. This was a tremendous accomplishment, made even more impressive by the fact that he managed to pick up four additional degrees in the process.
Andrew and his twin brother Eric have been my constant companions for the better part of twenty years. We grew up together, facing the same challenges and navigating many of the same opportunities. Throughout all of it, he was a constant positive influence and pushed me to be my very best.
While watching him graduate, I realized just how big of an impact he has had on my life and just how vital it is to surround yourself with people who both challenge and elevate you.
This, of course, is particularly important for entrepreneurs. The old maxim that “Whom you spend time with is whom you become” holds true in business just as it does in life. We often distinguish our business and personal lives, convincing ourselves that it is okay to be one way at the office and another at home.
The truth is that there is no such separation, and to think otherwise is pure folly. Personal consistency is all we have, and therefore must surround ourselves with people we trust, respect, and admire in every aspect of our lives. Doing so will not only make you a better person but a better leader.
Find a tribe that raises you up
Life can be lonely for entrepreneurs or leaders of organizations, as there aren’t many direct peers they can lean on for support. Interactions with other CEOs tend to become ego contests, where everyone is desperate to prove their success and brilliance.
The result is not only off-putting, but it also poses an active threat to your soul as a leader. Early on in my role as the CEO of BodeTree, I went out of my way to connect with other startup CEOs in an attempt to develop a network that I could lean on when times got tough. Unfortunately, I failed to realize at the time that startup founders can be some of the most insecure and miserable people you’ll ever find.
The tribe I found myself part of envied each other's successes and continuously sought validation while tearing down those around them. I’m ashamed to admit it, but after a while I found myself adopting the same behaviors. I was becoming a person I did not want to be.
It was only after coming to this realization that I began to distance myself from the group and instead found mentors and friends from different walks of life. While they rarely had to deal with the exact issues I faced, they were still able to offer insight and value, and I was able to do the same for them. Most importantly, these were people whom I trusted, respected, and admired. My interactions with them made me better, not worse.
I should have realized this earlier because of the friends I grew up with and the positive impact they had on my life, but I fell victim to the fallacy that there was a separation between my personal and public experiences. Fortunately, I was able to correct the situation before it got out of hand.
Remember that attitudes are contagious
We often forget that attitudes are contagious, particularly when it comes to business. If a leader surrounds themselves with bad influences, they run the risk of picking up bad behaviors. As leaders, the implications of this extend beyond just the personal; they spread throughout your entire organization.
I’ve been a CEO on paper for about eight years, but it has only been in the last three or so that I feel I’ve earned that title. Before that, I was a CEO in name only, flying by the seat of my pants and stumbling from one crisis to the next.
Early on, one of my most damaging mistakes was thinking that my team didn’t pick up on my moods or pay attention to my attitude. I falsely believed that my emotions started and ended with me, when in reality they set the tone for the entire team.
When I was anxious, the team was concerned. When I was mad, frustrated, or aggressive, those sentiments flooded into the team as well, coloring their interactions with each other. It took me a few years, but I eventually realized that I had a higher responsibility as a leader.
I could no longer indulge in my mood swings or even share my feelings in the same way that someone else could. I had to modulate my responses and set the right tone for my organization at all times.
As usual, this was easier said than done. Despite what I’d like to believe, I’m no superman. I fall victim to the same temptations and challenges like anyone else. To master my emotions and set a positive tone for my company, I had to have a group of people around me who strengthened me and provided both insight and accountability when I faltered.
Seek out people you want to emulate, be of value, and learn from them
In the end, I realized that I had the answers I was seeking all along. Just as my tribe of friends helped me to survive and thrive adolescence and early adulthood, I needed to have a tribe of mentors and peers who could do the same in my career.
Finding these people can be difficult. There is no secret formula for success, despite what anyone tells you. Instead, all you can do is seek out people you want to be like, offer them value, and do your best to learn from them. Building these relationships isn’t easy, and it certainly isn’t fast, but it is worth the effort.