25 Leadership Lessons Your Business Can’t Live Without

25 Leadership Lessons Your Business Can’t Live Without

The reality is that running a business de facto puts you in a leadership position, even if right now your only employee is you.
25 Leadership Lessons Your Business Can't Live Without

Image credit: Shutterstock

This story originally appeared on Due

When it comes to running a business, you may find yourself learning about skills you never thought you would need. One of those skills is leadership.

The reality is that running a business de facto puts you in a leadership position, even if right now your only employee is you. This can be a scary thing for some people, but it can also be incredibly rewarding not just for your business, but also for you personally.

Here are 25 lessons on leadership your business can’t live without, brought to you by the conversations I have with business owners all the time.

1. Patience is a virtue.

If there’s one lesson on leadership that all business owners must learn its that patience is a virtue. Let’s face it, lots of business owners (myself included) are Type-A control freaks who want stuff done yesterday. The reality is business owners must learn to let go of the control and surrender just as often as they need to keep working.

2. Resilience is key.

Just like business owners need to surrender, they also need to have an insane amount of resilience. Ask any successful business owner and they will tell you that things go wrong all the time — especially in the beginning. It’s your job to keep going anyway.

3. Don’t take the word “no” personally.

Here’s an excellent lesson on leadership all business owners should heed: Don’t take the no’s so damn personally. You will get rejected. You will have doors slammed in your face. In the beginning, this will happen more often than not. The key is to not take it personally.

4. Know when to quit.

Knowing when to quit on a project is just as important as knowing when to keep going. Sometimes we need to pull the plug on projects, and it’s our job as leaders to know when it’s time to do so.

5. Take calculated risks.

Starting a business and being a leader requires taking on risk. The most obvious of these risks is a financial risk.

Let’s be real here, the money to invest isn’t always there. Sometimes, we hope an idea will make us cash but we don’t really know. And finally, we act anyway even if we’re not sure where the money is going to come from.

The key is to take calculated risks. Do your research, consider the obstacles and be ready to take ownership if it doesn’t work out.

6. Take ownership when you screw up.

Out of all the lessons on leadership for your business, this is one of the most important. Leaders must be able to take ownership when they screw up. They must even take ownership when their employees screw up.

Doing the opposite could have negative effects. Take the former CEO of Lululemon. When there was a quality control issue with some leggings, he made a terrible comment about how some women aren’t the right body type for his company’s activewear. It took a while for their sales to rebound after that one.

7. Always work on yourself as a person.

There’s a reason why personal development and business development seem to go hand in hand — it’s because the health of a business owner (both mentally and physically) is often reflected in the business.

8. Become hyper self-aware of emotions, thoughts and actions.

The more self-aware you are the better you’ll be able to make decisions for your business. Furthermore, it will help you get out of your own way.

For example, I recently noticed that I was becoming a little controlling in my business and not allowing my assistant to do the things I pay her to do. I’m self-aware enough to catch myself in the act and question why I’m behaving a certain way.

What I realized was I was having an issue I had no control over in my personal life, so I was compensating by controlling in my business. As soon as I realized this I apologized to my assistant and let her do her job.

There’s data to back this up, too. A study conducted by Green Peak Partners and Cornell found that self-awareness should be a top criterion for successful leadership. In fact, they found that self-awareness was the highest indicator of overall success.

9. Learn to delegate.

Good leaders know that they can’t do everything themselves. As a result, they learn to bring people onto their team and delegate.

You need to spend your time on what Gay Hendricks calls the “Zone of Genius” in order to move your vision forward. This is the area where you’re not just merely capable, but you exceed far beyond what most people can.

For example, I’m capable of doing basic web design, but I shouldn’t be wasting my time doing it. Instead, I should stick to my zone of genius which is writing and marketing. This is where I excel and it’s also where I lose track of time because I love it so much.

By delegating to others, business owners are able to spend more time in their zone of genius which allows them to not just move the company forward but actually enjoy it.

10. Learn how to say no.

As a leader, you’re probably going to be asked to take on new projects or participate in events. While in the beginning, it makes sense to take every opportunity that comes your way, eventually it becomes detrimental to your progress. That’s why learning how to say no is always one of the lessons on leadership business owners must learn.

Business owners must focus on what is essential to the business, and sometimes that requires saying no a lot. For an awesome book on how leaders can practice saying no, make sure to check out Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown.

11. Have faith in something greater than yourself.

In my time interviewing business owners for my podcast, I’ve begun noticing a common theme. Many of them attribute their leadership success to something greater than themselves. Whether it’s a cause, a vision or some form of spirituality, they all have something to tap into.

12.  Learn to trust yourself.

Learning to trust yourself is another one of the major lessons on leadership that your business cannot live without. Eventually, you’re going to have to trust yourself to make decisions both big and small. It’s your job.

13. Learn to listen to other people.

Just like business owners know they can’t do everything themselves, they also know that they don’t actually know everything. If you really want to succeed, you’re going to have to learn how to listen to other people.

14. Don’t make big decisions quickly.

In the beginning of my business, I had a nasty habit of making decisions quickly. As my business grows, and as I become more mature, I’ve realized this really isn’t smart. Big decisions deserve careful consideration (but don’t take too long either!).

15. Don’t run a business for the sake of running a business.

Most business owners have some sort of a cause or a mission that drives them. Very rarely do they run a business for the sake of running a business.

16. Big breaks are few and far between.

Successful business owners know that success takes years, if not decades. While some people catch big breaks, they are truly few and far between. The key is to show up and do the work every single day, even if it doesn’t look like you’re making any headway.

17. Always stay open to learning something new.

Successful business owners and leaders are constantly learning new skills and ways to improve their businesses. In many cases, it’s an insatiable appetite. In other cases, it’s simply making sure that you and your business are always improving.

18. Think outside of the box.

Successful leaders know that sometimes they need to get out of the box they’ve created in order to solve a problem. This may look like asking others for help, getting out of the office, taking a break or trying something new.

19. Always pay it forward.

Part of what makes a successful leader is the ability to pay it forward through something like mentorship. Leaders want to know that they’ve helped someone else improve their lives and businesses as well.

20. Be transparent.

Just like business owners need to take ownership of their mistakes, they also need to be transparent with their team and customers. It shows that people can trust you.

21. Treat the people who work for you as equals.

The Harvard Business Review reported on a study that found that positive teams are more productive in the workplace. The study, which was conducted by the University of Michigan, found that positivity in the workplace fosters all of the following:

  • Caring and maintaining responsibility for colleagues.
  • Providing support for one another.
  • Avoiding blame and practicing forgiving mistakes.
  • Treating each other with respect.

One of the ways in which to foster this positivity is to treat the people who work for you as equals. This positivity comes from the top down, so make sure to foster these things in yourself and teach your team to follow suit.

22. Be idealistic and pragmatic at the same time.

In order to succeed in business and solve a problem you need to be a little idealistic. However, in order to execute you need to be pragmatic. Successful business owners have learned how to balance the two.

23. Walk your talk.

Do you want your team to take care of themselves physically? Then you’d better do the same. Whether you know it or not, your position of leadership makes you a role model.

24. Always stay in communication with your customers.

Successful business owners go out of their way to speak with customers to see what’s going on and how they can improve. They know that at the end of the day, their business is there to help the customer, not themselves.

25. Don’t be afraid of change.

Successful business owners know that what got them here may not get them there. Times change, and while it’s perhaps one of the hardest lessons on leadership you must learn, you must accept that your business needs to change along with the times.

Final Thoughts

You may have noticed a common theme throughout this article: Leaders know how to balance opposing things. They know how to trust themselves, but not too much so as they still listen to others. They know when to keep going, and they know when to give up.

While striking this balance doesn’t happen overnight, it is something business owners can begin practicing from the get-go.

(By Amada Abella)


10 Behaviors of Real Leaders

10 Behaviors of Real Leaders

10 Behaviors of Real Leaders

Image credit: Shutterstock

There’s usually a pecking order in the animal kingdom. There are queen bees, alpha gorillas, and male-female wolf pairs that dominate the pack. Humans are no different.

This may come as a shock, but organizational constructs like tribes, societies, and companies are not the result of high-level intelligence but of primitive survival impulses reinforced by neurotransmitters in the brain’s ancient limbic system.

To say that leadership and organizational behavior has been successful in the animal kingdom is a gross understatement. The planet is fully populated by millions of animal species that all exhibit the same sort of behavior.

The point is, leadership is not so much a thought process as it is instinctive behavior. It’s evolutionary. It’s to a great extent responsible for our survival on earth. And that’s why we do it. As survival imperatives go, it’s right up there with eating and breeding. No kidding.

So when I say, “Leaders lead. Followers follow. You can’t do both,” in my upcoming book, Real Leaders Don’t Follow, I’m not making this stuff up. It’s biology. Granted, you can behave any way you like by overriding your survival instincts, but neither you nor I get to change how the species behaves. Evolution’s got that covered.

I know you didn’t click on the headline to get a biology lesson, but it’s important to understand that leadership is not really about traits or habits. It’s primarily a behavioral phenomenon. So let’s be practical for a moment and discuss the sort of behavior we consistently value in our most cherished leaders.

They teach.

Apple CEO Tim Cook credits the company’s success in no small part to Steve Jobs’s role as a teacher. The way Apple’s unique culture continues to flourish and scale, even as the company grows to enormous size and valuation, is a testament to the way Jobs taught his team what matters most, so they could teach their teams, and so on.

If they hear you, they will listen.

Whether it’s politics, business, or non-profit, there are great demands on leaders’ time. That comes with the territory. So there are physical, organizational, and mental barriers they put up to block out the noise. Nevertheless, their success depends on being open to new and different perspectives. So, if they hear you, they will listen.

They challenge themselves.

Great leaders are never satisfied with the status quo and that goes for their own status quo, as well. They may recognize the success of the team, especially after a long hard effort, but you’ll rarely see them patting themselves on the back. Their own accomplishments don’t excite them; the next challenge does.

They don’t follow.

All leaders learn from experience and mentors. All leaders serve their stakeholders. But learning and serving are not the same as following. Real leaders serve and learn from others, but they still carve their own path. They have their own unique ways of doing things. And, when it comes to key decisions, they trust only their own judgment and their own gut.

They solve big problems.

Real leaders don’t play small ball. Whether it’s a customer problem, a constituent problem, or a societal problem, they live to come up with innovative solutions to big, tough problems. Real leaders are great troubleshooters.

Their vision inspires others to act.

I’ll never understand the endless debates over what leadership is and isn’t. It’s simple, really. Leaders are those who others follow. And leadership behavior causes others to act. Whether they have a vision for a product, an organization, a people, or a future, that’s what inspires them to lead and their followers to action.

They don’t whine.

Most great leaders grew up with adversity, so they learned at an early age that complaining gets them nowhere. Instead, they set out to prove something to themselves and others – that they’re special, unique, worthy, capable – and that’s often a self-fulfilling prophecy.

They don’t overindulge their egos.

Even if it’s not self-evident, most successful leaders have healthy egos – a strong sense of self. There are exceptions, but they’re rare. In any case, when our egos write checks that reality can’t cash, that’s self-limiting behavior. Some leaders learn from those mistakes and gain wisdom and humility. Others don’t, and that’s unfortunate.

They do only what matters.

Leaders are by definition people of consequence. They’re driven by their vision, their obsession, a problem they must solve, whatever, but they’re usually driven by one thing and that’s what matters to them. They move heaven and earth to make it happen and ignore pretty much everything else, although there’s usually an exception or two.

They’re effective, not efficient.

Since they’re consumed by a passion of some sort, that’s what they’re all about. Minutiae like optimizing, fine-tuning, efficiency, and productivity are completely off their radar screen, unless of course it just happens to be their specific focus. I suppose there have been leaders of the Toyoda (yes, that’s how it’s spelled, not Toyota) family obsessed with Kaizen – continuous improvement – but that’s an unusual circumstance.

The important thing to keep in mind is that leaders are defined by their behavior. What they do and don’t do. How they act and don’t act. They come in all shapes and sizes. They are extraverts and introverts. They’re morning people and night owls. They’re healthy and completely out of shape. They have neat desks and workspaces that look like a tornado ripped through it.

One thing’s for certain. Real leaders don’t follow. It’s biology.


The 8 Signs of a Bad Leader

The 8 Signs of a Bad Leader

It’s an interesting conundrum. Say you’re a manager, a senior-level executive, or a human resources employee; your job is to be a leader, yes, but also to pick out leaders, to select who will be promoted, given extra responsibility, head up a project or team. How do you know who will make a great leader in a given circumstance?

There are loads of articles floating around about attributes that make great leaders great, but what makes a poor leader? We can all pick them out after the fact (hindsight is 20/20 after all), but what traits set these people apart even before they assume a leadership role?

I propose that any one or more of the following traits would be a red flag that a person might not be ready for a leadership position:

1. Lack of empathy.

I realise I just wrote a post about the importance of empathy as a leadership skill, but the lack of empathy is a key indicator of a poor leader. If the person cannot seem to put him or herself in another person’s shoes and see things from a different perspective, they will never be a truly great leader.

2. Fear of change.

Hey, change is scary for everyone, especially when it involves loads of money and/or people’s jobs. But leaders who cannot embrace change are destined to be left behind.

3. Too willing to compromise.

The ability to find a win/win situation is a gift for a leader, but anyone who is too quick to compromise his or her ideas or ideals is not going to be a benefit to the team. It’s a fine balance between understanding when to give in and when to stand your ground.

4. Too bossy.

It’s a common misconception that bossy people make good bosses. Actually, the opposite is true. Someone who simply orders others around is unlikely to engender any loyalty or make subordinates feel empowered. True leaders have followers who want to be led by them.

5. Wishy-washy.

Leaders must make decisions, and so if a person always seems to vacillate on choices big and small — from who should handle a certain client to where to go for lunch — they will probably have difficulty in a leadership position. It indicates a lack of self-confidence.

6. Poor judge of character.

A person who has a blind spot when it comes to friends and coworkers, making excuses or being unable to see another’s true character, won’t surround himself with the kinds of people who will help him rise to the top.

7. Out of balance.

Someone who is the first into the office every day and the last to leave might seem like a great candidate for promotion, but ask yourself if they have any balance in their lives. A lack of balance can be a precursor to burnout, and can also signal that they may have unreasonable expectations of the rest of the team.

8. Lack of humility.

The person who acts as though they can do it all — and are the only one who can do it right — is unlikely to rise to be a great leader, because they’ll be too busy doing everyone else’s job. Micro-managers need not apply.

This is not to say that having one of these characteristics automatically bars anyone from assuming a leadership position. In fact, I believe people can learn to overcome any of these bad habits and become a better leader.

But if someone exhibits more than one trait on this list, it’s a good bet that they’re not ready to lead at this time. If you are in a position to help them grow, take the time to constructively point this out to them, and give them the opportunity to improve. You’ll be modeling how a great leader really works.

What characteristics do you think indicate someone is or will be a poor leader? I’d love to discuss them in the comments below.


4 Questions to Ask When Thinking of Thought Leadership

4 Questions to Ask When Thinking of Thought Leadership

4 Questions to Ask When Thinking of Thought Leadership

Image credit: -DiMiTRi- | Flickr

Far too many people dismiss thought leadership as a buzzword devoid of real substance, which is unfortunate — because it’s not just a buzzword. But, what is it really? When should you consider using it, and how do you balance the talent and experience of your team with the humility and authenticity that today’s audiences demand?

Let’s start by getting on the same page with these four questions:

1. What is thought leadership?

At its core, thought leadership is a type of content marketing where you tap into the talent, experience and passion inside your business, or from your community, to answer the biggest questions on the minds of your target audience on a particular topic.

The source is not as important as the content. Thought leadership doesn’t mean a big name from a big school, it means you provide the best and deepest answers to your customers’ biggest questions in the formats your audience likes to consume them.

Thought leadership is a key component of content marketing, but it’s important not to fall into the unique-point-of-view trap. I have heard more than a few executives delay betting on content marketing by focusing on the unique point of view. They say, “There is so much noise in the marketplace. We can only compete if our content is differentiated.”

Your audience isn’t looking for your content to be differentiated all of the time. They are just looking for the best answers to the questions. Or as Bryan Rhoads at Intel likes to say, “You have to win the internet every day.” Of course you want to differentiate your point of view when it’s appropriate. Differentiate with your visual design. But mostly, differentiate by becoming an authority and by helping your customers with different types of content, every single day.

We have to be careful with how we use the words thought leadership though. Wikipedia actually calls it business jargon and defines it as content that is recognized by others as innovative, covering trends and topics that influence an industry.

2. When should you consider a thought leadership approach?

One of the best ways to establish authority on your topic is to produce deep research on the subject. You have to present a depth of knowledge that no one else has.

You also have to define all of your customers challenges, and define the best ways to overcome them. Many brands think this is an opportunity to talk about their products and how they are better, but this isn’t an effective approach. As soon as you start promoting yourself, your audience will start to tune out, and you will lose the trust you worked so hard to build.

3. What are the benefits of thought leadership?

The benefits of thought leadership start with brand affinity. By communicating thought leadership, you become part of the conversation early in the consumer journey. You allow your audience to get to know you.

Ultimately, thought leadership is one of the outcomes of a solid content strategy. And content is bigger than marketing. Leaders are everywhere. Expose your thought leaders, and you begin the process of becoming a social business — real people with real faces talking to real customers and buyers.

4. How do you create thought leadership that drives results?

Identify a topic that is closely associated with your brand. Are you an authority on that topic. A simple Google search can help you answer that question. Often we find that brands are not just competing with their direct competitors. You are competing with everyone. Anyone who publishes content in your space is competing for mind share and authority.

You also need to identify the questions your customers are asking. Identify them all, make a list and prioritize them. Answer those questions across multiple formats and multiple channels in a way that adds value to your audience. Start with the most important and work your way down the list. Seek to be the best answer to those questions.

Finally, create your thought leadership content in an engaging way. Viral cat videos and listicles are great, but you shouldn’t dismiss any content types that your audience might be interested in. You need to educate them, but we are all human and none of us mind a little humor. Use lots of examples, facts and quotes. I love the idea of interviewing customers to create content or curating content from other sources while adding your own perspective.

Your audience is looking for help. Are you willing to give it to them? And tell me, what do you think? What does thought leadership mean to you?


How Your Leadership Skills Will Determine Your Company Culture

How Your Leadership Skills Will Determine Your Company Culture

How Your Leadership Skills Will Determine Your Company Culture

Image credit: AppLovin

Build a culture of teamwork.

In 2012, chef Niki Nakayama was living her dream, preparing traditional Japanese kaiseki feasts at her Los Angeles restaurant, n/naka. Then her sous chef quit without notice. “I had been accustomed to splitting tasks with him,” she says, but now everything fell on her shoulders. She dove in, preparing exquisite, labor-intensive meals of nine or 13 courses — but with less leadership available, her minimal staff suffered.

What was going on? The problem may have been culture. In traditional Japanese kitchens — not unlike some traditional American offices — subordinates are expected to watch and learn, rarely ask questions and never debate the head chef’s ideas. “I am not a great teacher,” Nakayama admits. That’s why the loss of her sous chef was so acute: The staff had lost a certain kind of leader, someone who could “speak Niki,” bringing order to her creative chaos and translating her instructions for everyone else. Nakayama couldn’t fill the hole herself.

She came to a realization: Everyone should be aware of their weaknesses and overcome them as a team. Nakayama fixed her own problem by hiring Carole Iida, a fellow chef whom she was dating at the time. Where Nakayama was messy and spontaneous, working off the top of her head, Iida was organized and reliable, and could guide the staff. “She brought in her organizational abilities, and we were able to put everything together for other people to understand,” Nakayama says.

As a result, the 2016 Zagat guide has awarded n/naka the top spot for food among L.A. restaurants, a dramatic rise from eighth place the year before. Now Nakayama encourages all her workers to focus on their strengths — “to pull out that best part of ourselves and just contribute that all the time, without spending too much time trying to fix the weaknesses that we have,” she says. “It’s far more productive in a team environment. It’s knowing and respecting each other’s strengths and weaknesses that makes a great team.”

Build a culture of rigor.

The Santa Fe Institute, an extremely well-regarded nonprofit research center, sets a high bar for scientific inquiry. The more than 250 researchers affiliated with SFI are investigating the fundamentals behind the world’s biggest problems — cancer, fast-spreading viruses, global economies, you name it. And its president, accomplished scientist David Krakauer, knows one thing for sure: When working with all these great minds, he cannot always be the smartest one in the room. He sometimes thinks of himself “as a colonel leading an army of generals.”

So how does he lead them? “The authority of my position is not worth shit,” he says. “When I’m talking to someone who is more accomplished than I am, my opinion is not the most compelling argument. The most compelling argument is rigor. You have to speak the language of rigor.”

Speak the language of rigor. That means supporting every idea with observation, evidence and analysis — and maybe even conducting experiments to determine the best course of action. It means trusting a clear, quantitative approach that everyone can understand. And it means not using language that’s limiting. Here’s a phrase Krakauer hates: “That’s not how we do things around here.” No. He is adamant on this point: Anyone caught uttering that phrase, he says, “should be put down.”

Like scientists, business leaders should wield evidence as a tool of persuasion, Krakauer believes. He quotes physicist Richard Feynman: “Science is the belief in the ignorance of experts.” It’s a hard lesson to learn, but a necessary one: Your gut instinct is not sufficient. If you want to persuade top talent to follow your lead, you’d better be able to back up your arguments with more than your job title.

Build a culture of inquiry.

Contently, a tech startup that helps Fortune 500 companies and other brands do content marketing, was founded by three guys in New York in 2010. That trio has since grown to a staff of about 100. And along the way, cofounder and chief creative officer Shane Snow feared a disturbing change: The energy driving that growth — that scrappy, do-anything attitude — could easily cool. Employees might become timid in large groups, afraid of earning the ire of the majority. “Most people and most companies reach a plateau at a certain point, and at many points,” says Snow. “It’s crazy how quickly even a disruptive, rebellious startup can get to the point where they say, ‘That’s not the way things are done here.’” (There it is, that phrase again.)

So Contently made sure not to let that happen.

For example, Snow limits meetings that involve problem solving — where employees really need to speak up — to three or four people. And challenges keep Contently’s big team feeling scrappy. For example, Snow often asks for “10X ideas” — say, “How can we improve customer happiness by 10 times?” Employees are game, he says: They do want to keep things fresh. A leader’s role is to create the right opportunities.

Time for another forbidden phrase: “Don’t bring me problems; bring me solutions.” Leaders use that phrase because they think it inspires employees to take initiative, says Adam Grant, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School and author of Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World. But instead, it teaches employees not to speak up about a need unless they have a proposal for fixing it. “When you ask for solutions, you create a culture of advocacy rather than a culture of inquiry,” Grant says. “Most creativity, most innovation happens when somebody points out a problem that’s not yet been solved.”

Snow wants to hear it all. He and his cofounders set aside a few free hours every week so any employee who wants to chat (in or, preferably, outside the office) can do so. It’s an invitation to hear about those problems that are in search of solutions. “When someone brings in a perspective that hasn’t been heard yet,” Grant says, “it often forces you to reconsider your decision criteria, to bring in new information — and that ultimately is good for your process.”

Build a culture of accountability.

Bridgewater Associates is the world’s largest hedge fund, managing $154 billion in assets for sovereign wealth funds, corporate and public pensions, foundations and university endowments. Its founder, Ray Dalio, is widely seen as a financial genius. And yet, after a meeting with a potential client one day, an employee several levels down on the org chart fired off a blistering email to Dalio. He accused the boss of being unprepared and disorganized, and gave him a grade — D-minus! — for his behavior.

“I don’t know many organizations where you can send an email like that to the billionaire founder and keep your job,” says Grant, the Wharton professor who shared the incident in his book, Originals. But instead of lashing out, Grant says that Dalio asked others who had participated in the meeting to assess his performance. The email exchange was then forwarded to the entire staff, effectively turning Dalio’s misstep into a case study.

This is how Bridgewater’s culture works, according to Grant: Everyone is accountable to everyone. The staff is expected to routinely rate coworkers on a range of 77 qualities, including some — like the willingness to touch a nerve — that might not be prized at other companies. The firm’s 1,500 employees can even assess their bosses, and the more incisive the critique, the better. And all this data, including the name of each person who left feedback, is available to any employee.

It’s extreme. It wouldn’t work for most companies. Thirty-five percent of new hires don’t make it past 18 months. But consider what Bridgewater is going for: It wants employees to feel that hard work is recognized, and that the company values transparency. Find ways to bring those traits into your workplace — because when an employee feels comfortable enough to challenge you, and you’re able to turn that into a lesson in leadership, then you’ve created a culture in which everyone can do their best work.


5 Unforgettable Leadership Qualities for Successful Entrepreneurs

5 Unforgettable Leadership Qualities for Successful Entrepreneurs

Entrepreneurs are a different breed of leader. Renegades, rebels, world changers, innovators, black sheep, risk takers, workaholics — these are just a few of the names we are called by both those who love us, and those who don’t understand us.

One thing successful entrepreneurial leaders have in common is a high degree of emotional intelligence, or the capacity to be aware of, control and express our emotions, and to handle interpersonal relationships fairly and empathetically. It can be argued that emotional intelligence (EQ) is more important to your happiness, health and success over your intellect (IQ).

The following is my personal list of the five pillars of leadership for entrepreneurs, which is probably quite different than you would expect. As you grow your business and make your mark on the world in your own unique way, I think you will find it useful to keep these qualities top-of-mind when defining your own leadership identity. These pillars are fundamental and unforgettable for success.

1. Responsibility: If it is to be it’s up to me.

Personally, I like to look for a “win-win” scenario in every situation, no matter what. In order to create this win-win, especially in challenging interactions, I always remind myself to come from a place of respect and love. It doesn’t matter what frame of mind the other party is in, I get to choose my actions and reactions.

Mother Teresa exemplified this sort of leadership responsibility and captured it eloquently in this quote written on the wall in her home for children in Calcutta:

“People are often unreasonable, irrational, and self-centered. Forgive them anyway. If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives. Be kind anyway. If you are successful, you will win some unfaithful friends and some genuine enemies. Succeed anyway. If you are honest and sincere people may deceive you. Be honest and sincere anyway.  What you spend years creating, others could destroy overnight. Create anyway. If you find serenity and happiness, some may be jealous. Be happy anyway. The good you do today, will often be forgotten.  Do good anyway.  Give the best you have, and it will never be enough. Give your best anyway.”

2. Possibility: 100 percent is possible 100 percent of the time.

You will be tempted to say no to opportunities you don’t want to pass up when you are feeling overwhelmed. You are the master of your emotions and your reactions and when you come from a mindset of being unstoppable, you will find a way to make it all happen.

This is the hustle, the difference between being the best you can be and half-assing it. If you want to say yes to an opportunity but feel you have too much on your plate, don’t doubt, just take action and find the support you need to make it happen. Leave everything on the field, every day.

3. Integrity: My vision and my commitments dictate my ways of being and my actions.

We are defined by our vision and our commitments (our word). When you revisit your goals, mission statement and vision daily you will be in alignment with your highest potential more often. Naturally, there will be days when circumstances get the best of you or throw you off track, but if you stay attuned to your vision you will rise above the petty details time and time again.

4. Urgency: I live as if my life and the lives of others depend on it.

This is a precious life. Every second wasted will never come back.

When I wake up I am thankful for another day to experience it and to share my gifts. When you go all out and share your passion with others, what distinguishes a leader from the average person is the sense of urgency to do everything we can with this one day, this one hour. You may not have tomorrow so you need to take action now.

5. Risk: Learn to be comfortable being uncomfortable.

The only way you become an entrepreneur is to take a risk. You risk your time, safety, money, security, reputation and so much more. So what? Let fear be your compass. Follow it all the way through to the end and see to it that your business and your life are nothing short of extraordinary.


Why Leadership Hinges Upon What You Do — Not Who You Are

Why Leadership Hinges Upon What You Do — Not Who You Are

Why Leadership Hinges Upon What You Do -- Not Who You Are

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Ask 10 entrepreneurs about the vital characteristics that great leaders possess, and more than likely you will receive 20 different answers.

With thousands of books on leadership and countless more articles, there is no shortage of commentary, opinions and debates about the entrepreneurial traits that differentiate great leaders from good leaders from the rest of the pack. Being a leader, however, goes far beyond the ability to master a trait or fill a role.

Ronald Heifetz, the director of the Leadership Education Project at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government and author of “Leadership Without Easy Answers” suggests that rather than defining leadership either as a position of authority or a personal set of characteristics, we should define leadership as an activity.

In other words, it boils down to what you do rather than who you are.

Former Illinois Central Railroad CEO, Harry J. Bruce, goes further and explains how many of the typical definitions and expectations of leadership are wrong — and why entrepreneurs should learn not to measure themselves by these false measures.

1. Leadership is not measured by authority.

Leadership and authority may go together at times, but generally, authority is conferred to individuals in order to accomplish a goal, while leadership is the process of influencing others to accomplish the goal. The two are not mutually exclusive, and indeed leadership can and often does happen in the absence of any authority.

2. Leadership is not pioneering.

Entrepreneurs who pioneer an innovation, create a movement or fundamentally change an industry may be wonderful at creating new theories, concepts or products, but it hardly qualifies them to be the person to lead the implementation and expansion.

3. Leadership is not serving as a role model.

While entrepreneurs are often looked upon to serve as a positive role model for the rest of their organization, being a role model is different than being a leader. Role models have a demeanor that serves as a benchmark for how to carry oneself, but when it comes to leading, it is actions rather than appearances that lead followers toward a goal.

4. Leadership is not accomplished alone.

Leadership by definition means causing action with others, so achievements and success in the absence of a consistent following of loyal followers is not leading — it is luck.

In the end, because leadership is based on action, the only important and common capability of great leaders is the ability to understand motivations. By being self-aware of what drives you as well as what drives those around you, great leaders learn to leverage motivations to make their vision that of their followers and eventually act together toward a goal. The job is infinitely easier when you surround yourself with individuals with shared motivations.

No entrepreneur embodies this better than Steve Jobs, who famously was abrasive, demanding and difficult to work with. What made Jobs a great leader was his understanding of his own motivations, aspirations and dreams, and by actively and regularly surrounding himself with individuals who shared his vision and passion (and forcing out those who did not), he was able to lead his team at Apple to great achievements despite a leadership style that most would shun.

Taking on the actions of a leader is not easy. Because leaders lead, they are often the first to fail, a frightening fact that for many can be difficult to overcome. As well, because leaders are always leading, entrepreneurs need a healthy dose of physical and mental stamina.

At least entrepreneurs can stop measuring their leadership ability against other successful entrepreneurs or a Myers-Briggs personality test. If you want to be a great leader, all it takes is action — so get going.


How to Leverage Your Executive Leadership Team

How to Leverage Your Executive Leadership Team

How to Leverage Your Executive Leadership Team

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One of the hardest things to get right as a founder is building out a strong and capable leadership team that can propel the company to the next level. The next hardest thing, once the leaders are assembled, is determining: 1) How much ownership of the strategy should those leaders have? and 2) How involved should a founder be in the business as it grows?

Entrepreneurs tend to gravitate toward two extremes: They are either too involved in the minutiae of the business, and become micromanagers; or they hand off almost the entire business to others. The key to success here is achieving the right balance — knowing when and how to partner with the leadership team.

Founders need to trust and leverage their leadership team to make decisions and keep the business moving forward. At the same time, they need to stay connected to leaders, ensure they’re aligned on the vision and support them as they grow their own teams. It’s a hard balance to strike, but an important one to get right.

Here’s how to find the right tone between leading and trusting an executive management team:

Hire leaders with complementary experience.

Everything in business starts with people — they’re an organization’s most valuable asset. So, to ensure that a leadership team is trustworthy, its membership must consist of professionals with the skills and experience the business needs.

Remember, leaders can be developed if they have the right foundation for success. Look internally and externally for the right talent to fill the leadership team. That doesn’t necessarily mean these professionals need to be industry veterans with an extensive resume. It just means their experience and skill set align with what’s necessary for the company at this stage of growth.

Further, these leadership additions should balance the management style and business approach of the founder. Look for people who have skills and experience in areas of business the founder doesn’t, and find people full of new and innovative ideas. Work to bring together a group of leaders who have diverse knowledge and experience, but who also share the same values.

Overall, founders should choose people who are great representatives of the business and whose skills and judgment can be trusted in their absence.

Get to know any candidates really well before offering them a spot on the leadership team. This can be done through a thorough interview process. During interviews, focus on building a relationship, understanding these candidates’ leadership style and talking about what their leadership would look like within the company.

Finally, do due diligence by reaching out to references and asking for referrals to collect feedback and confirm the facts.

Allow the team to lead.

Once a trustworthy, capable leadership team is assembled, it’s time to step back and let the team members do their jobs. Although it can be difficult to hand over control, the alternative is much worse. Micromanaging at any level of the organization is harmful. A 2014 survey conducted by Accountemps found that 59 percent of employees surveyed reported working for a micromanager at some point, and 55 percent agreed that that experience had hurt their productivity.

Empower the leadership team members to do what they were brought in to do. Set specific goals for the company; and for each department, ensure that they are aligned with the vision and values. Then, allow the team members to execute these goals and drive the strategy however they see fit. Give them room to develop new processes, innovate and launch new ideas and provide them with the tools they need to succeed.

Start small at first, and as the leaders prove themselves, hand over more and more responsibility. At the end of the day, the goal is to have the leadership team managing up to the founder versus the other way around.

Hold regular meetings.

Taking a step back and allowing leadership to do their jobs doesn’t mean they should run the show without any guidance. The leadership team still needs support from the founder. When founders don’t keep in touch with the executive leadership team, they set the tone for a lack of communication throughout the organization.

In fact, only 25 percent of mid-level managers in Global 1000 companies surveyed by Insigniam in 2014 said they had 13 or more interactions with executives over the course of a year.

This is why the founder should become the facilitator of cross-departmental partnerships. Make sure the leadership team members are communicating with one another and lower-level managers, and that they’re collaborating at all the right decision points.

Stay connected to the team to offer guidance and support, stay updated on projects and initiatives and take control when necessary. Hold ongoing one-to-one and team leadership meetings to keep everyone on the same page and updated on individual and company goals.

Meet with team members regularly, not just to offer guidance, but to learn from them as well. These meetings should be two-way dialogues about the key business topics. In this way, founders can learn about the health of that arm of their organization.

Further, founders should ask for feedback about what they themselves can do better to enhance overall company engagement and adoption of the company vision.

As the business grows, founders can’t be everywhere at once or aware of what’s happening at every level throughout the organization. That’s where the leadership team comes in. Gain insight on what different departments and employees are thinking and feeling, what programs are working well and which need to be rethought and stay informed on different operations.

Leverage the executive leadership team’s detailed view of its business to improve, inform and drive plans for growth. This team exists to help boost the founder to the next level of operating the company. So, if you’re the founder, help team members do exactly that.


Establish Your Thought Leadership Role as a CEO

Establish Your Thought Leadership Role as a CEO

Establish Your Thought Leadership Role as a CEO

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Being a thought leader doesn’t happen because you declare yourself one; it happens because your audience, industry and the world at large say you are. The process of getting there requires forethought, planning and execution. Start by considering the following.

What role will thought leadership play?

A big part of developing an executive or CEO brand is deciding what role thought leadership should play in your brand. Start by considering the impact a thought leadership strategy could have on you and your organization. How can your thought leadership goals align with your larger organizational goals?

Once you’ve made a case in your own mind, it’s important to engage the support of senior management or your board of directors. Since there are always costs, time and effort (PR, branding, marketing, consulting etc.) involved in pursuing a CEO thought leadership strategy, it’s a smart move to get buy-in before you start down the path.

What flavor is your thought leadership?

The world of executive and CEO branding overflows with self-proclaimed experts and gurus — many of whom have not taken the time or rigorous exploration to define their thought leadership brand.

In general, CEO thought leadership comes in three varieties:

  1. Celebrity. These people are best known for their personality. Examples include Richard Branson, Tony Robbins, Oprah Winfrey.
  2. Cerebral. These people are best known for their thinking and ideas. Examples include Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, International Monetary Fund Managing Director Christine Lagarde.
  3. Consequential. These people are best known for the results they produce. Examples include Steve Jobs, Sheryl Sandberg, German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Where do you think you fit in? Knowing which variety of thought leadership you want to be known for will affect the tactical strategy you put in place.

“The CEO Reputation Premium” report from Weber Shandwick and KRC Research asked more than 1,700 executives which external activities they felt were important for CEOs to participate in. The top eight were:

  1. Speak at industry or trade conferences. Being invited to speak at conferences as either a keynote, breakout session or panel partic­ipant is a solid step in creating yourself as a thought leader in your space.
  2. Be accessible to the news media. The more reporters get to know you, the more they’ll call on you when they need sources to interview. In addition, a proactive PR campaign can get you on the media’s radar. Be it radio, television, magazines, newspapers, online outlets or bloggers, the more known you are, the stronger your thought leadership position becomes. One strategy for gaining media coverage is to apply for (and receive) awards. There is an endless number of awards available on a local and national level, within your industry and the general business world at large.
  3. Be visible on the company website. Many CEOs are in hiding when it comes to their online presence. Clear visibility on your company website, a personal website, LinkedIn, About Me profile or other authoritative landing sites are necessary to give people a place to discover what your brand is all about.
  4. Share new insights and trends with the public. There are countless ways you can share your knowledge writ large. Discuss the content marketing strategies that would work best for you with your marketing department to determine which will provide excellent channels for your thought leadership.
  5. Be active in the local community. A big part of thought leadership is reaching out beyond your own business to support your local community. Local groups, causes and philanthropic activities all contribute to your executive and personal brand. One caution: I advise my clients to never pick a cause solely because they think it will help them build their brand. Sticking with causes that you feel authentically passionate about will benefit your brand but, more importantly, will give you a true sense of satisfaction and contribution that will be seen and felt.
  6. Be visible on the corporate video channel. Two words here: “media training.” Before you jump headlong into any video taping (for your corporate website or CNBC), be sure you have your sound bites down and a level of comfort and competency that represents your CEO brand.
  7. Hold positions of leadership outside the company. In the same way that supporting local causes brings you outside the world of your own business, teaching, sitting on boards and other leadership positions will help establish your seniority in your field.
  8. Publicly take positions on issues that affect society at large. At perhaps the highest level of thought leadership, these are the people who have transcended talking about themselves, their brand and even their businesses to become go-to pundits for the big-picture issues impacting our world.

50 Rules for Being a Great Leader

50 Rules for Being a Great Leader

50 Rules for Being a Great Leader

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Becoming a great leader isn’t something that happens overnight, but it can be achieved through discipline, hard work and a commitment to improvement through experience. Great leaders aren’t born, as some people suggest; instead, they are shaped over time. And, while what makes a “great” leader in one application doesn’t always apply to others, there are some general rules that all great leaders follow.

If becoming a great leader in your own business or organization is your goal, these 50 rules are a good place to start:

1. Listen to your team. Rule one. Always listen to what your team has to say, even if you don’t like it.

2. Communicate as efficiently as possible. Make your expectations and feelings clear, in the appropriate medium as often as possible.

3. Talk less. Sometimes saying nothing is better than saying just anything.

4. Be an example. Be the type of person you want your team members to be.

5. Be passionate. If you aren’t passionate about your business, you’re in the wrong business.

6. Be consistent. Be consistent in your behaviors so your team knows what to expect from you.

7. Make firm decisions. Don’t leave things undecided for long, and don’t waver about a decision once you’ve made it.

8. Identify mentors and role models. Find people you can look up to and learn from, and follow them closely.

9. Interfere only when necessary. If you trust your team to do good work, don’t interfere unless absolutely necessary.

10. Know your limits. Don’t extend yourself beyond your means.

11. Know your strengths. If you’re good at resolving disputes, step in and resolve them as often as possible.

12. Know your weaknesses. If there’s something you’re not good at, admit it, and work on it.

13. Don’t make excuses. If you make a mistake, take ownership of it and don’t pass the blame to someone or something else.

14. Accept the unforeseen. You can’t control or predict everything.

15. Choose your partners carefully. Work only with people you can count on and trust.

16. Do good. Commit yourself to being a good person and giving back to the community when possible.

17. Meet new people all the time. Take every opportunity to expand your network and expose yourself to new experiences and perspectives.

18. Stay in touch with your emotions. Don’t be a robot — let yourself feel.

19. Temper your reactions. Hold back your reactions until you have a moment to clarify your internal thoughts and feelings.

20. Have fun. Take the time to have fun with your team.

21. Research everything. Before making a decision, know the pros and cons — do your homework.

22. Think everything through. Never exclusively trust your instincts or first reactions.

23. Choose your team carefully. Hire only those you can trust to get the job done (and to get along with others, as well).

24. Prioritize your team. Your team is everything. Give them whatever they need to succeed.

25. Be humble. Don’t get big-headed about your wealth, influence or position as a leader.

Related: 10 Habits of Ultra-Likable Leaders

26. Forgive mistakes. Everyone makes them.

27. Forgive yourself. Don’t beat yourself up too much over anything. Move on.

28. Be rational. Make decisions logically.

29. Be reasonable. Listen to dissenting opinions, and be fair.

30. Make time for what’s important. There’s no such thing as “not having time” for what’s really important in your life. Make the time.

31. Constantly learn. Read as much as you can, and take classes whenever you have the opportunity.

32. Improve everything. Work on improving your approaches, your skills and your processes constantly.

33. Never give up. Don’t throw in the towel when a little extra persistence could put you over the edge.

34. Transform your methods when necessary. If something isn’t working, change your approach.

35. Cut your losses when necessary. If you’re fighting a losing battle, retreat and start again somewhere else (or in a new way).

36. Learn from your mistakes. Try not to make the same mistakes twice.

37. Ground everything with data. Back up all your decisions, opinions and thoughts with hard, objective facts and evidence.

38. Don’t ignore signs of stress. Stress is real and can interfere with your ability to lead. If it starts setting in at abnormal levels, take action to reduce or relieve it.

39. Give feedback. Let your team know what they’re doing well and what needs further improvement.

40. Trust, but verify. Trust your team to get things done, but always follow up to make sure the work is completed.

41. Be approachable. Let people know they can trust you, and open your door to anybody who needs it.

42. Treat everyone equally. Don’t play favorites; it breeds resentment and makes you appear immature as a leader.

43. Don’t pursue close personal relationships with the team. Be on friendly terms, but don’t try to be best friends with everybody. You’re a leader, first and foremost.

44. Get the team together. Use team-building exercises or other excuses to get your team members talking with one other and having fun together.

45. Return favors. If someone helps you, make it your responsibility to pay back the favor — even if it’s years later.

46. Don’t burn bridges. Never cut a contact completely out of your life.

47. Stay in touch. If team members leave or change roles, stay in contact with them.

48. Don’t sacrifice your personal life. Your personal life is necessary to retain your own mental health. Never sacrifice it for the sake of leadership or professional responsibilities.

49. Enjoy leadership. Try not to stress too much about being a leader. Instead, enjoy all the benefits it offers.

50. Take advice with a grain of salt. Even with these 50 rules! Because nobody knows everything, and no one piece of advice applies to all situations.

Follow these rules, trust your instincts and continually strive for self-improvement. Eventually, through your experiences and your efforts, you’ll become the type of leader most people only aspire to be.