The Evolution of a Leader
Updated: Nov 30, 2020
Are leaders born, or made?
This is one of my favorite questions I ask the entrepreneurs I interview each week, as it often provokes very thoughtful responses, and gives our community insight into their thought process and sources of motivation. What was so unique about this week’s founder, Michael Reeder of Swartz & Reeder in Chicago, IL, was that I didn’t need to explicitly ask this. He inadvertently articulated the answer, delivering invaluable insight for entrepreneurs across every industry.
In a similar manner to how our parents and guardians teach us the ways of the world as we grow into it, a great business mentor teaches us to tactfully navigate the professional environment. As with many entrepreneur’s success stories, mentorship played a critical role in Michael’s journey. Although his journey ended in finding financial freedom, it wasn’t without years of exploration and long nights. Bouncing from school to school, he struggled to find a subject he was enthusiastic enough to pursue academically. As graduation loomed, he ended up choosing accounting as a practical study that he could make a living out of, and would support him as he raised his family.
While many accounting majors follow the traditional pipelines through to major firms, Michael sought a more unconventional path. After working an unpaid internship running the books of his cousin’s deli in north Chicago, Michael was able to land his first job through a connection of his father’s at a boutique accounting firm.
As a first-year accountant, Michael didn’t have the access to high pedigree clients like his peers at larger firms. However, the camaraderie of a small business piqued his interest, and he was eager to take on a larger responsibility at the firm. Once he came onboard, he found an immediate connection with the firm's founder, Barry, and his team. Barry served an instrumental role in Michael’s professional growth, giving him high levels of responsibility at a young age, an experience he later emulated with his mentees. He was able to benefit from this to develop his career more quickly than what would have been possible at a Big Four firm, and eventually work his way to a partnership with Barry. Eleven years later, at thirty-three years old, Michael was able to purchase the entire company from Barry.
I felt that Barry’s agreement to allow Michael to purchase the firm from him showcased Barry’s sincere trust in him. It takes a lot to part with a company you have spent a lifetime building. I asked Michael about the role trust plays in business and mentorship.
“You have to trust the people who work on your team, and the only way you can do that is to train them. There is no shortcut to training, so it’s something I spend a lot of time doing. But I am fortunate for this, because I feel that I can pay forward the lessons that Barry taught me. In the end it works in my favor as well, as the firm can operate autonomously without a great deal of my personal supervision.”
Michael’s professional relationship with Barry is something that I feel we can all learn from. Whether you’re a recent college graduate or a decorated entrepreneur with decades under your belt, there is a mutual benefit to bridging the gap between these roles, and finding common ground. A new employee can learn a lot from an experienced employee, while the experienced employee can benefit by delegating responsibilities to their eager mentee, and bolstering his/her own acumen through teaching.
For entrepreneurs who have recently taken on their first employees, don’t be afraid to give them true responsibility and challenge them with novel projects. Of course, this comes with a notable caveat. If you have taken the time and consideration to hire someone, you must be able to unquestionably trust them with impactful work. Without a comprehensive vetting process, hasty hires can cost dearly. However, once you have a coachable, tenacious individual on your hands, mentorship can be an incredibly rewarding experience for both parties involved. Not only will it make your life easier, but it will also free up your personal time to focus on high-level decision making. After speaking with Michael, my belief in self-evaluation as a critical tool in every entrepreneur’s journey was reaffirmed. Through understanding what you truly want out of your career, you can be the architect of your own experience, and have a strategic plan to ensure all the long hours are well-spent.
At The Astral Consulting Group, we approach every business case with a clean slate, and apply our unique framework to build a workflow to suit each client's individual needs. Our founding partners come from engineering backgrounds, and understand the importance of reasoning from the ground up. As such, we combine this "first-principles" style of thinking with a holistic growth mindset to evaluate each case from both the top-down and bottom-up. This creates a comprehensive process unique to each solution we develop, and gives our clients insight into both the granular details of their business and the high-level strategy and vision to propel them forward.