Self leadership is an important element of entrepreneurship.
“In order to lead others, we have to know how to find our own way.” ~ Martha Beck
I was 16 years old and in Heaven.
I was perched in the summer sun on the steps leading to the back of my dad’s shop. I had a small radio playing Top 40 hits by my side. I was on my first and only usubata for the day, carefully rubbing away dirt and grime with a copper penny, painstakingly revealing a beautiful, patinaed, bronze surface.
This would be the only piece I would finish for the day.
I’d work on and complete another the next day. And another the next. By summer’s end, the entire crate of pieces that had spent weeks on a ship from Japan, would shimmer and shine on the shelves of the shop’s garden room, alongside other ikebana vases, containers, books, shears, and kenzan.
At the dinner table each night, we’d laugh and say it was my summer of Japanese bronze. 8 hours a day, six days a week, from June to mid-August. Copper and bronze.
So, what special magic did my dad possess to get a teenager to do such work over an entire summer with a happy heart and bursting pride? It started with self leadership.
Rewind to the spring day we broke the metal bands away from the wooden crate with a crowbar and lifted the lid.
I stood next to my dad as he sank his hands into the mounds of white straw with the excitement of a child on Christmas morning and lifted out the first usubata. He gently—lovingly—wiped away the bits of straw and dust, stopping to take in the design and craftsmanship. I watched him closely—and in that moment, I learned how reverence and deep appreciation looks on a face.
“Probably 16th century,” he said, holding the piece up for me to see. “Look at the level of detail here. Think of the patience, passion, and devotion it took to make this.”
I kept my gaze on Dad as he turned the usubata in the sun, admiring each inch. I thought of the artist, thousands of years ago, caring for his every move and intent as he worked the bronze into life.
The four of us (the artist, my dad, the usubata, and me) were now forever connected across space and time.
In the Presence of Passion and Creativity
Dad showed me how to gently remove the layers of gunk that coated the surface. “You can use a penny—copper is softer than bronze and won’t scratch it. See? As you move the penny across the surface, little by little, you can give this piece new life, showing its full beauty.”
I was all in.
This was now not “grunt work.” This was a mission on Beauty’s behalf. An homage to the artist across time and miles. A desire to share with the world the tingly sensation in my stomach and heart when in the presence of passion, creation, and love for exquisite design.
A secret deeply important to share with a whisper that lifts another’s heart.
Over the course of other summers, I’d witness my dad crawl inside the display windows, extracting bugs that had made their way inside the glass and perished. I’d watch him wash the sink with his bare hands so he could feel and clean where invisible, sticky residue remained. I’d overhear him delight customers by teaching them the history, culture, and artful practices of Japan.
I’d stand next to him and help check out customers as they brought their treasures to the counter. I’d learn from him how to do things “The Stone Lantern Way,” with a fierce attention to detail and care. And on the rare occasions we’d make a mistake, I’d watch him handle and resolve customer complaints with gentleness and grace, ensuring each was not just satisfied, but overwhelmed with surprise and gratitude.
The Approach of the Successful Entrepreneur
Dad embodied the core of what it means to lead yourself first. He never asked us to do work he wasn’t willing to do himself, and we all routinely saw him jump in and do whatever needed to be done with a happy spirit. We couldn’t help but want to work with him and also do whatever needed doing. We, too, brought our best selves to each task.
Importantly, Dad also did the hard work on himself before seeking to build his enterprise. He spent years educating himself, testing himself, and crafting an unparalleled self awareness and self leadership. In cities and towns across Asia, he wayfinded, without maps or guides, to build relationships with vendors, select merchandise, and create a detailed vision for his shop and brand.
As entrepreneurs and creators leading businesses, we can forget the importance of doing our own wayfinding before we seek to build the ultimate team and attract clients. We’d just rather fast forward over that uncomfortable patch of self discovery and time lost in the weeds. Understandably, we want to take the easy way out and focus on helping others and not focus inward on self leadership.
Skipping over doing our own wayfinding, though, short circuits our connection with ourselves and in turn, our ideal clients. Not only do we miss crucial clues for how to pull our clients into our orbit with ease, we are at sea energetically. Those we want to reach the most will not pick up on, nor resonate with, our signals.
Lead by Example to Grow Your Business
Wayfind first. Heal your trauma and eliminate the habits that do not serve you. Be willing to get lost on purpose as you voyage over dark seas with only stars to guide you. Invest mightily in your growth, healing, development, self awareness, skills, and mindset. Develop the skill and art of self leadership. It is only then that you can lead through how you show up in the world.
We know if you’ve done the work. We can feel your energy before you speak or before we read your copy. We can already see your heart.
We want to follow those who lead by example—who are a few steps down the path from us and continue to be on the journey, always willing to do the hard work on themselves first.
Let us follow your model, your example. Show us what reverence and deep appreciation looks like on your face.