Leading Alone

by  Mandy Vavrinak  |  Self Leadership

How do you lead when you’re a solopreneur or a *very* small businessperson? My business, Crossroads Communications, is primarily myself and my husband. While we work with a network of partners and trusted providers for some projects, on a daily basis we have no employees, no co-workers… it’s just us. And since I spend a good chunk of most days out of the office in meetings or on site at client facilities, it’s not even us, it’s just him and just me.

How do you lead when you’re alone? More importantly, how do you create positive change in the world through leadership as a solopreneur?

Leadership isn’t defined by one person being in charge of or “leading” others. It is an attitude and an approach characterized by commitment to ethical, moral, self-directed behavior designed to accomplish set goals. Knowing where you want to go is the first step to leading alone. Then, you must examine your attitudes, biases, commitments and beliefs to determine whether your goals are truly in alignment with your personal moral compass. If not, set some different ones. You can’t lead effectively if you don’t believe.

Once you’ve set goals that are in alignment with your beliefs, leading alone is a matter of choosing to do, every day, that which is best for those you come into contact with through the course of your day. Every time I meet with clients, I have an opportunity to lead through my conduct, how I share knowledge, how I present opportunities and challenges and how I handle objections or misgivings. I have an obligation to serve my clients in a way that meets my moral standards and accomplishes my goal of fulfilling their expectations and helping them achieve.

I carefully choose the businesses and clients I work with. I view it as a relationship… a partnership. I get to know them and their business and I need to believe in what they wish to sell, share, promote or grow. If I can’t believe, I don’t work with them (though I’ll recommend another provider). Leading alone sometimes means making difficult choices based on maintaining the alignment of my moral compass and my business goals.

Always consider the impact your life and your actions, especially when viewed from afar, may have on others. I’m a mom of 4 and I’m often asked,  “How do you do it?” Every time I answer that question, I have an opportunity to share why I’ve made the choices I have… why my office is at home, why my husband and I are partners, why we’ve chosen to keep our business small. When someone sees me working for an hour between meetings at a Starbucks or reads my tweets or Facebook updates… I am leading alone. Who knows what inspires someone, or disenchants them? Leadership doesn’t take holidays.

To me, every day is a powerful opportunity to lead within the framework of my everyday life. Having employees,  co-workers or even daily face-to-face interactions isn’t necessary to lead… having the right attitude and alignment is.
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What People Are Saying

Kevin W. Grossman  |  27 Jul 2010  |  Reply

Absolutely. Leading self first and foremost is critical.

Mandy Vavrinak  |  28 Jul 2010  |  Reply

Kevin, thanks for reading and responding… I appreciate it :)

Susan Mazza  |  27 Jul 2010  |  Reply

This is such a great topic Mandy. Perhaps “leading alone” is just another example of leading without a title and reinforces the notion that leadership is not about position. Having people work for you does not make you a leader. As you point out so eloquently, being a leader is about the choices we make.

I think anyone who chooses to lead in any given moment is alone though – the moment we speak up, step up or stand up for something we stand out. The people around us will follow our lead or they won’t. They may even try to knock us down overtly or covertly.

“Choosing to do, every day, that which is best for those you come into contact with through the course of your day.” — that is what leadership looks like in everyday action regardless of whether we run a company of 1 or 100,000.

Mandy Vavrinak  |  27 Jul 2010  |  Reply


Thanks for your kind words… and yes, I think you’re right. The moment we step out to lead, we’re leading alone, no matter how many people choose (or not!) to follow. Thanks for reading and commenting!


David Burkus  |  27 Jul 2010  |  Reply

Mandy, I love your post as a motivation or inspiration. But I have to disagree with its premise. Almost every definition of leadership involves leading “others” or influence something else. Most of what you discuss is great advice on how to be more disciplined, something leaders and soloists can certainly benefit from.

Mandy Vavrinak  |  27 Jul 2010  |  Reply

David, thanks for your comment :) I’ve been told on many occasions that what I do (or have done) is an inspiration to others. I just don’t often know it at the time the inspiration is occurring. That’s what I’m trying to say… that we lead, even when we don’t know it, even when no one appears to be following or inspired by our actions at the time. I do, however, believe many definitions of leadership are flawed in the sense they concentrate on the position and not the outcome or results. So I both agree with you and disagree, I suppose!

Heath Davis Havlick  |  29 Jul 2010  |  Reply

What a great way to view leadership: “It is an attitude and an approach characterized by commitment to ethical, moral, self-directed behavior designed to accomplish set goals.” Thanks for helping me reframe!

Mandy Vavrinak  |  30 Jul 2010  |  Reply

Thanks, Heath… But really I should thank you and the Lead Change community. This week, at least, it didn’t feel so much like Leading Alone :)

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