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Being a good leader means nothing without investing in yourself. Here’s how

Startup founder and author Kathryn Finney shares small changes that helped foster her personal growth and strength as a leader.

[Source photo: Miguel Á. Padriñán/Pexels]

How do you find “good” people? First, be a good leader.

In order to build and lead a great team, you have to be the kind of person that people want to build with.

What does that look like? It looks like centering your humanity (yep, those core values again) by remembering at the end of the day that we all want to live a creative life that we control. Entrepreneurship is just the tool we use to do it.

I’ve always been a leader, since building my first business in the fourth grade. But it took a great deal of personal growth for me to become a good leader.


1. Stay healthy. Eat regularly. Get good sleep. Stay hydrated. Keep moisturized. Exercise. Believe me, all these things matter. If it’s three P.M. and you haven’t eaten since eight P.M. the previous night, do you think you’re going to be able to make the best decisions for you and your company? Hell, no.

Have a snack (or two). I swim five days a week at the local gym, especially during super stressful times.

Staying healthy means taking care of your mental health, too. Let me tell you from experience: being a mother, being a wife, and being a CEO simultaneously is no picnic. Sometimes you need help, and that’s okay.

2. Abide by your own core values. Remember the core values we defined in Step 1? You are going to use these a lot. Tape them on your wall. Set them up as a pop-up on your computer. Live by these values and do not second-guess them (or yourself).

3. Be open to learning. As a CEO, I think it’s critical that you “ABL:” Always be learning. I realized after several years of being a CEO that when I didn’t have the time to myself to think and process and learn from the world around me, I wasn’t making the best decisions. Now, I block time on my calendar each week for me to read and absorb information to make me a better person and a better leader. I believe that this solo learning time is essential for everyone. Take at least an hour a week to give yourself permission to reject all calls and focus on new ways to learn and better your business without outside interference.

4. Take joy in your work so you are a joy to be around. Sometimes being a good leader means you are just enjoyable to be around. As a leader, you have to find that joy in your job so the people around you find joy in their jobs. Be the person who laughs. Be the person who dances.

At Genius Guild, we have a robust internal Slack community where we talk business but also about other things. We have a whole channel dedicated to that 2021 meme of Bernie Sanders at the presidential inauguration. We have long discussions about hair weaves (#bestedgesinvc). We create Spotify playlists that feature everything from trap music to Gregorian chants.

5. Know when to walk away. Sometimes being a good leader is recognizing when something isn’t working. Sometimes businesses fail. Sometimes even relationships fail. Sometimes it’s not your fault. Sometimes it is. And sometimes your company is thriving but your personal life is crumbling (and vice versa). My advice? Know your number. Know what your breaking point is. Identify the point at which you’re willing to walk away in order to preserve your sanity, or your dignity, or your marriage, or your relationship with your family.

Every time I’ve failed as a leader, it was because I didn’t follow these five tips. Staying a good leader is a continuous process, even more so in this post-pandemic world where team members may be dealing with a variety of anxieties and stressors. It’s impossible to truly be there for others if you aren’t there for yourself. Martyrs are selfless people who give their lives to a cause (or in this case a company). There’s no value in assuming that you role for you or for your team. Just as you are a reflection of the people you surround yourself with, they are a reflection of you. Your business is a reflection of you. That goodness starts with you.


Excerpted from Build the Damn Thing: How to Start a Successful When You’re Not a Rich White Guy by Kathryn Finney with permission from Portfolio, and imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House, LLC. Copyright © 2022 by Kathryn Finney. More

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