Leaders are responsible for company shortcomings as well as successes.

It’s hard to believe that more than 17 years have passed since I purchased the company now known as Peterson Plumbing, Heating, and Air Conditioning in western Colorado. The extraordinary experience has transformed me from a struggling one-truck operator into the leader of a multimillion-dollar market-dominant company. As we’ve progressed through many ups and downs over the years, one important lesson I learned has held true. This concept is too easy to overlook yet too important to ignore.

You are your company. The size of your company, your product offerings and how long you’ve been in business are irrelevant. The fact is this: As you are, so is your company.

After several years of struggling along with my small service company, I decided to learn how to systematically grow my business while simultaneously creating more income and freedom from the company. I took action, becoming a Certified E-Myth Consultant and attending my first E-Myth Academy in December 2000. I will never forget somethingMichael Gerbersaid at that event: “Show me a small business owner, give me a mirror and I’ll show you what his business looks like.”

This hit me like a ton of bricks. Until that point, I was living the life of a typical entrepreneur in the contracting world, hoping for better team members, better attitudes, more calls and increased profit. I wanted all these things, but I was missing the crucial understanding of the fact that my own attitude and leadership style were the issues, not external influences. (By the way, if you haven’t read “The E-Myth” by Michael Gerber, I strongly suggest you do so.)

The striking realization that I was completely responsible for my company’s shortcomings was both freeing and intimidating at the same time. After all, I saw myself only as a contractor, not a leadership expert. I didn’t think that I knew how to motivate people. Heck, most of the time it was hard enough to motivate myself to get out of bed and put in another exhausting week.

Then I started to practice a very powerful exercise that I encourage you to perform as well. I began to see myself and my company through the eyes of my team members, setting aside the limited vision I’d been operating with. What does the company look like to them? What does it feel like to come to work here? An even bigger challenge was: Why do people choose to work for me and my company? I had to honestly analyze and objectively respond to these questions, even if I was uncomfortable with the reality of the responses.

The insight that I gained from this questioning and impartial observation began to open my mind to new possibilities in the contracting realm. I realized how often we accept undesirable results simply because “that’s the way things are.” I refused to accept the industry norm any longer.

The change starts with you

I had always wanted to be a business owner, but what I had actually created in the beginning was a full-time job with long hours and few benefits. All I knew was the situation had to change and that the change started with me. I began seeking targeted business education, modeling great companies and building relationships with successful contractors.

The truth is, we don’t know what we don’t know. It is only when we embrace our lack of knowledge that we can open ourselves to the education that is essential to our leadership careers. You are in control of your destiny, my friends. We might not have a roadmap for every journey, which I’m sure you’ve noticed during the recent economic downturn, but we can always modify our direction. Simply put, when you look in the mirror and don’t like what you see, figure out what you can do to transform the reflection.

I often coach leaders to contemplate how their companies appear from the outside looking in. Many leaders allow themselves to become victimized by the tough times, focusing on external challenges and factors beyond their control. Remember, you are leading the company. You have the opportunity and ability to guide the vision in the direction of your choice. You earn the most money (or at least you should), so if you aren’t enjoying your position, how pleasant can it be for your other team members? Sometimes we need to take a step back in order to realize how our personal behavior affects our business and individual team members. Once again, take a moment to focus on your reflection.

I chose this topic because it’s an easy time for any of us to blame our displeasing results on external conditions, but it’s also the ideal time to look at what we could be doing differently. Many leaders whom I’ve spoken with are experiencing difficulties right now. Trust me, I understand that today’s business climate isn’t as favorable as it once was.

However, the environment remains as it is, so as a leader, what are you going to do about it? One of the most impactful things you can do is to realize your company is a direct reflection of your own beliefs, actions, motivation and implementation.

This is a profound realization because it grants us the awareness of our ability to change direction moving forward. When you look in the mirror, what do you see? Take a good, hard look. If it’s not what you want, immediately begin rethinking the way you’ve always done things, making the changes necessary to propel you in the right direction. Before long, you will begin experiencing the results you desire and deserve, stepping back to admire your new, improved reflection.