Nothing can be done without leadership. Every neighborhood coalition and church needs leaders. Every book club has to have someone to initiate it and keep it going; every family vacation needs someone in charge of planning.

It’s the same with business. Successful companies have a leader — or more than one leader — standing behind them, ensuring their survival, continuation, and future. Actually, businesses can’t move forward without many leaders planning the next steps. Leadership from a group of committed employees — not customers, not markets, not software — is the most important determining factor for success in a business.

A good business has good leadership. A great business has great leadership. 

Great leadership isn’t something you can luck out on, or fake for an extended amount of time. Great leadership is developed carefully and intentionally; it involves constant learning and growth. Great leaders are hungry for new knowledge. They’re humble enough to know they don’t know everything. They seek to improve themselves with education, training, practice, and discipline. The leadership development journey is never done.

We recognize these common traits in great leaders. As a CEO, I’m always seeking to grow, and I recognize excellent leaders when I meet them. You may be a good leader right now; you may even be a great leader. When it comes to a great business with great leadership, there’s one critical trait that’s frequently overlooked.

To understand, let’s talk about the people we spend time with.

Much has been written about the importance of the friends in our lives. Studies have shown that most people’s income will be within 10 percent of the income of their closest friends. That’s a narrow bandwidth. We tend to share similar traits with those we spend the most time with. Our friends influence us.

If we see a friend growing and earning more, subconsciously we likely want to grow and earn more too. If a close friend is stuck or declining, sometimes it might feel more acceptable for us to do the same thing.    

The Law of the Inner Circle 

John Maxwell, a great leadership author and speaker, codified the Law of the Inner Circle. The law states those closest to us will determine our potential as a leader. And if leadership is the critical success ingredient in a company, then they determine the potential of the business as well.

As business leaders, the people who report to us on our organizational chart are more important to our potential and the potential of our companies than our personal friends. The people we surround ourselves with at work see us more than almost anyone else. They have a huge impact on our day-to-day lives. Those who directly report to us are the ones who have influence on the success or failure of our leadership, and therefore our business. 

If we believe that a truly great, influential leader creates other leaders, who in turn create other leaders, then it’s up to us to surround ourselves with people who will inspire us and encourage us to grow. We must then commit to and take personal responsibility for growing these people as leaders.

This is job #1 if we want to grow great companies. We must grow the leadership ability of those who report to us. It’s not just about new software, focused training, and great-looking trucks. Not even close. Remember: everything rises and falls on leadership. Even with the software, the training, and the trucks — even with high-potential employees and an ideal market — if you don’t have great leadership, you likely won’t use the tools you have to their fullest capabilities, and your high-potential employees will not turn into high-performing employees. Without solid leadership, a business can be full of potential and still not succeed.

If you want to grow your potential as a leader, your first job is to grow yourself. Great leaders aren’t born; they’re made. And they’re made during the day-to-day challenges and successes that we experience with our carefully chosen leadership teams and employees. Choose these people wisely, then commit to growing their leadership — they’re more important to your potential than you know.

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