I recently passed the torch as President of the Advertising and Marketing Independent Network (AMIN) to another who will lead the organization forward for the next few years. AMIN Worldwide—a group of 50-plus agencies from around the world—is focused on actively networking to expand knowledge, resources and business opportunities.

And I mean actively.

Honestly, the past few years were a bit of a blur. Leading an agency has it own velocity, then pile on an enthusiastic network of entrepreneurs who are hungry for interaction, conferences, networking and growth. Seems a bit insane, right? But it wasn’t. The experience of taking the reins taught me a few things along the way.

1. Who You Hang With Matters

AMIN partners and clients taking their seats in the Palais d’Iéna in Paris. Can you find me?

All leadership books point to one constant truth about successful leaders: they surround themselves with people smarter than they are, and then let them go to work.

Of course our independent network has an abundance of fierce doers who are smart, scrappy, inspirational, persistent and oh, did I mention a bit crazy, too.

Today’s agency owners live on the edge. Work like fiends. Face risks. Take on competitors much larger then they are. Constantly reinvent. They’re proud about what they do for their clients, and are true winners in so many ways. This is not an industry for the faint of heart.

It’s these very people that made up our executive board, and they got the job done. Honestly, I think it is because they just don’t know any other way than to win. Working with them was easy.

And it made me look like a much better leader than I could have ever been alone.

2. Leaders Need to Grow Too

Posing for a picture with my friends from England and Romania during a visit to Portugal. 

As those who own agencies could attest, our employees think you magically hold the perfect answers to the challenges no one else can figure out. Somehow leaders are just supposed to know. All knowing. Self-driven. Confident. Born to figure things out. Golden.

But while some of those qualities may be true, we always have a thirst to know more. For me, I learned a ton about leading…as I was leading. I honed my listening skills, tried harder to see all sides of an issue and sharpened my ability to make things go smoothly when questions and conflicts arose. And I saw how these could positively affect team building, even with my agency peers, who are a fairly daunting group of accomplished folks.

A few of my board members sent me kind notes of thanks saying they felt they had improved professionally by just being a part of the executive team. All leaders. And like me, all still anxious to grow, without regard to where they land on their company’s organizational chart.

3. People Are Very Much the Same

AMIN members from Australia, England and Nigeria enjoying an American cookout.

My roots lie a small town in the Midwest, and I’ve spent most of my career living in the region. Working with AMIN has expanded my world, and not just geographically. It has helped me build a true network of professional peers around the globe, people I will forever consider my friends.

Different people, different languages, different cultures and different ways of working. But the most astounding thing is not how different we are, but how much we are the same.

Every agency wrestles the same challenges—managing the bottom line while trying to balance the velocity of change, keeping their edge in strategy and creativity, pushing forward with digital, finding and keeping the best talent, proving a return on every single job and keeping clients very happy. Wow.

Recently some partners from Africa, Europe and Australia spent a night at my house for a good old American cookout. But we didn’t spend the night chatting about business. Not at all. We spent the time telling tales about antics of our childhood, our children, our families and our lives. Conversation never lulled and we laughed beyond reason.

These are the similarities that truly bring people together.

4. Don’t Doubt Yourself

Pausing for a photo in 2010 as an executive board member at the Amin Americas Conference in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. 

The truth is I can’t quite remember how I made the decision to say yes to the presidency, but I do remember being asked to join the executive committee shortly after Simantel joined AMIN in 2006. It was an honor and I was flattered, but I quickly began to feel self doubt: What in the world am I thinking? What could I possibly contribute to this amazing group of leaders? Would I have time for it? How would they feel about me? 

With a bit of uncertainty, I took the leap. One thing just led to another, and I transitioned from committee member to VP, from VP to President. Looking back, what was I worried about? At Simantel when things get tense, I often think we are smart people, we can figure it out. This is something to always keep in mind when fear comes calling.

If you have succeeded in your career thus far, odds are you can take it to another level. And if you are asked, don’t be afraid to stretch yourself and take the leap.

Oh sure, it was a lot of work, but the payoff personally and professionally was grand. I learned so much along the way. All in all, it was a great ride.