It’s Lonely at the Top and Other Challenges Entrepreneurial Leaders Face

By Charlene Li, founder of Altimeter Group, author of Open Leadership, co-author of Groundswell

CTU Professional Development - Tips for EntrepreneursWhen I formed the Altimeter Group in 2008, I had a vision for the company I wanted to build, but I had no idea of the significant challenges I would face bringing that vision to fruition. Like countless virgin entrepreneurs who came before me, enthusiasm, adrenaline and maybe a hint of over-confidence fueled me. And like those same newbie entrepreneurs, I made many mistakes – some small and easily fixed, and others so monumental that I wondered how I’d survive it.

Today, I’m proud to share that Altimeter is a thriving business that employs more than 20 people and, in 2010, was named one of the five most creative small businesses by Fast Company. Of course, none of that success came without some failure or without the dedication of many people – from employees and clients to vendors and advisors.

If building a successful entrepreneurial venture is in your vision plan, I applaud you. I hope these three pieces of advice help as you navigate the exciting, sometimes daunting, path of a successful entrepreneur:

  1. It’s lonely at the top, but it doesn’t have to be. This is a common complaint for any leader, whether you’re working within a corporation or leading your own business. There is a sense that you have no one to ask for help because everyone is relying on you for direction and leadership. It doesn’t have to be this way. Becoming active in groups like the Young Presidents’ Organization (YPO) and seeking partners to join my business helped me break the cycle of loneliness and get the much-needed support of others who understood my challenges.
  2. There is a fine balance between humility and confidence. Chances are, you’re starting a business because you have expertise, knowledge or interest in a specific area. This is a time when it’s hard not to get swept away by the excitement and momentum of building something you’re passionate about. As an entrepreneur, you need to be confident that your business will succeed, but you must also balance that with a dose of humility to ensure you’re looking at your venture from a clear, grounded perspective. This balance starts with a heightened sense of self-awareness and is deepened when you align yourself with partners, peers and mentors who can offer you perspective when you need it most.
  3. Building a business is hard, but it’s totally worth it. I did not anticipate how incredibly difficult it would be to start, build and sustain a successful business. Every day your values are revealed (and sometimes challenged) in the way you conduct business and how you interact with others. If you’re not clear about what you stand for, you’ll be left questioning yourself and every business decision you make. You will also find challenges leading your team. I’m fortunate to have a team of people at Altimeter who are so dedicated to the firm and care so much about the work they do that it sometimes takes me by surprise. Creating that kind of workplace didn’t happen overnight. It took a lot of hard work, work that we continue to refine and improve every day.

There are many, many more lessons I could share on how to build a thriving enterprise. I wish I had more room here. Much of the leadership I used to build Altimeter and help many of our clients build strong businesses, is described in my book, Open Leadership. I hope you’ll have a chance to read it, and then share with me how you’ve applied what you learned to build your successful business.

Bestselling author - Charlene LiCharlene Li is founder of Altimeter Group and the author of the New York Times bestseller, Open Leadership. She is also the coauthor of the critically acclaimed, bestselling book Groundswell, which was named one of the best business books in 2008. Charlene is a graduate of Harvard Business School and received a magna cum laude degree from Harvard College. Read her blog or follow her on Twitter.

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