Choosing Between Being a Business Leader or an Employee

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Leadership isn’t for everybody and there’s no shame in that.

Coming from a military background I know some are born natural leaders with outstanding charisma and machismo, while others function better in supporting roles. They’re more proficient at completing tasks than delegating them.

When applying this professionally, I noticed my colleagues and contemporaries thinking about a similar question:

Should I continue working for others, or should I start my own business? Is my role best served as a follower or a leader?

It’s a difficult question to ask, and a more difficult question to answer. As we see more and more veterans joining leadership roles at companies, it becomes clear that veterans are primed for prominent, upper management and executive positions. Now that doesn’t mean that’s the only option. We see others go into entrepreneurship and become their own boss, while others are content with being a good old-fashioned, hardworking employee.

It’s not an easy choice, and weighing which role is more suitable to you can be tricky. There are positives and negatives to both sides.

Something I lack as a leader is autonomy during my “off hours,” if there even are such a thing. It comes down to peace of mind versus free time. Which one are you willing to sacrifice?

As an employee, your priority is the day-to-day. Make it through the day and you can go home, cook dinner, play with your kids, watching television. Whatever you want to do, that time is yours. If you meet your responsibilities and hit your deadlines at work, it will be a pleasant ride home. Perform your duties correctly and you can sleep well at night. If you prefer a work style of objectives and deadlines, then being an employee might be more suitable.

As a business owner, entrepreneur, or executive, the work is non-stop. There is no definitive out-of-office time. The company is an enterprise that requires 24/7 maintenance. In a sense, you’re working around the clock, due to business matters persistently humming in the background.

Regardless of whether you’re in the office or not, questions are constantly popping into your head. What can you be improving on? What are your competitors doing? Are you implementing the best strategies? Is your company headed in the right direction?

Your M.O. is dealing with issues at a macro level. The bigger picture is always top-of-mind. If you are constantly learning, comfortable working longer hours and can handle the burden of steering a ship with other passengers, leading a business may be your calling. Still, peace of mind is possible by hiring those good old-fashioned, hardworking employees.

The good news is that you don’t have to start by being a business owner or entrepreneur right away. Entering a business or industry as an employee still provides plenty of opportunities for growth. And no one is stuck at a company forever.

As an employee, you can climb multiple ladders at once. Your value is intrinsically tied to how worthy you are seen by your employer. You aren’t directly responsible for prominent issues like longevity or sustainability. Your bread and butter is working in the trenches, and focusing on a particular area of the company.

Of course, you have the option to jump ship in an emergency. You have the sovereignty to move companies and positions as you choose. Better jobs at bigger companies will come your way as you advance to each new rung of your professional career. Sooner or later, you could find yourself in a key leadership position. An employee’s journey to the top of an industry isn’t always linear, there are lateral steps with unexpected twists and turns.

If you’re a people person with the vision and appropriate work ethic to match, working for yourself or serving on the leadership team is an option worth exploring. On the other hand, if you’re detail oriented, risk-averse and compliant to high demands, you have the DNA of a high level employee, with lots of leadership potential down the line.