Despite your expertise, skills and education, nothing can prepare you for becoming a business leader. There’s a lot of trial and error and on-the-job-training that you’ll experience as you grow your business.
I’ve been a business owner for almost 10 years now. Over the years I’ve made my fair share of mistakes including several that cost me actually running the business in the way I wanted. Lucky for me, I don’t have to make those same mistakes again.
To help you run your business a lot smoother, here are 25 leadership lessons from millionaire business owners so that you don’t have to make the same mistakes we have.
1Believe in your business
“Give your venture everything you’ve got. A passionate commitment to your business and personal objectives can make all the difference between success and failure,” writes Sir Richard Branson.
“If you aren’t proud of what you’re doing, why should anybody else be?”
“And don’t get suckered into blindly pursuing profits and growth. If you stay focused on being the best at what you do, it’s more likely that the rest will follow.”
2Prioritise and delegate
As all entrepreneurs know, you live and die by your ability to prioritise.” suggests Jessica Jackley, co-founder of Kiva and later co-founder and CEO of ProFounder. “You must focus on the most important, mission-critical tasks each day and night, and then share, delegate, delay or skip the rest.”
3Hire people with superior skills
Jack Ma, co-founder and CEO of Alibaba, says that, “A leader should never compare his technical skills with his employee’s. Your employee should have superior technical skills than you. If he doesn’t, it means you have hired the wrong person.”
4Give employees expectations and training
In his book “Zingerman’s Guide to Good Leading, Part 4: A Lapsed Anarchist’s Approach to the Power of Beliefs in Business,” Ari Weinzweig, CEO and cofounder of Zingerman’s gourmet food company, writes that, “Clear expectations and training tools are all about a better future.”
Ari adds, Small training success build confidence. People are more hopeful when they know what’s expected of them and feel they have the tools they need to do the work at hand.”
5Set the tone
“You can go through thousands of dollars in consultants to shape your culture, but it will still come back to the owner’s approach,” says Kristi Hedges, leadership consultant and coach at The Hedges Company.
“If you’re motivated and happy in your role, then others will follow your lead. And if you’re burned out and tired, that energy will permeate everything. Owners need to make sure they shape their role, and their company, to make them fulfilled and excited. If you put yourself last, you’re hurting the entire organisation.”
It may be surprising to learn that Mark Cuban, owner of the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks and one of the investors on “Shark Tank,” is a nice and likeable guy. He’s known for going above and beyond for his fans and has said that being “nice” is a necessity in business. When your team likes and respects you, they’ll be more likely to rally behind you.
7Plan for fun
Speaking of “Shark Tank,” Cuban’s colleague Barbara Corcoran fosters a culture of fun. “I think drinking together, having fun, having days off doing stupid things, dressing in ridiculous costumes, whatever you mandate as a company culture, what happens is everyone really likes each other and you create a family.”
Corcoran also says that this can bring out the creative side of your employees.
Bill Gates once said, “We always overestimate the change that will occur in the next two years and underestimate the change that will occur in the next ten. Don’t let yourself be lulled into inaction.”
Even after Microsoft became an industry leader and was earning billions of dollars in revenue, Gates wanted the company and his team to continue to evolve and diversify their products so that they would remain innovative and relevant, as opposed to being static.
9Mentor and give back to the community
“At the end of the day, we are all part of a community,” said Aneel Bhusri, co-founder and CEO of Workday. “Giving back at the Workday Foundation is just recognising that and being part of a broader community. We are just a small piece of the community.”
“We have been very fortunate and our growth and success is largely due to our community. The most exciting part about the Workday Foundation is that our employees actually drive where we give and they really drive the giving. Our employees get personally involved. It is fabulous when your hire the right people, with the right value system, and they want to give back and they push us to give back.”
10Leaders are lighthouses, not weathervanes
“Weathering changes at Primerica that often lead to uncertainty and chaos helped me develop a leadership philosophy steeped in being someone my teams can turn to for guidance, even during the most turbulent times,” says John Addison, CEO of Addison Leadership Group and leadership editor of Success magazine.
“Whether it was another leadership change or trying to save the company during [the recession], my people could say I would make the best decision for their future, and stand firm on that decision, even if it wasn’t popular with everyone.”
Addison added, “Being a weathervane twisting in the wind wasn’t going to instill the confidence they very much needed, so I had to learn to be a lighthouse: someone they knew would still be standing strong once the storm passed. Thankfully, [my] mentor, Primerica founder Art Williams, demonstrated being a lighthouse for many years, and I was able to follow his example.”
“Through my writing, speaking engagements and position as leadership editor for Success magazine, I am able to share my leadership message with a wider audience and play a role in shaping future generations of leaders. My hope through sharing my message is that one day we will have more leaders who are lighthouses and far fewer who are weathervanes.”
11Create a family-friendly environment
Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg made waves in November 2015 by announcing that he would be taking a two month paternity leave. Facebook, it turns out, is one of the leaders when it comes to offering competitive paternity leave.
“Studies show that when working parents take time to be with their newborns, outcomes are better for the children and families,” Zuckerberg wrote in a Facebook post. “At Facebook we offer our US employees up to four months of paid maternity or paternity leave which they can take throughout the year.”
12Treat employees like royalty
“We treat our people like royalty. If you honour and serve the people who work for you, they will honour and serve you,” said Mary Kay Ash.
Warren Buffett has said, “You’ve got to be able to communicate in life and it’s enormously important. Schools, to some extent, under emphasise that. If you can’t communicate and talk to other people and get across your ideas, you’re giving up your potential.”
14Be a man or woman of the people
Jim Sinegal, co-founder and former CEO of Costco, was beloved by his employees. Why? Because not only was his salary $350,000 a year, he was down in the trenches with his employees fighting for them to have higher wages. He had no frills office and everyone called him by his first name.
15Encourage employees to get more sleep
“Sleep plays a vital role in our decision making, emotional intelligence, cognitive function, and creativity – all of which are hugely relevant for both our overall health and our ability to be productive and effective,” Arianna Huffington told Forbes.
“Today, so many of us fall into this trap of sacrificing sleep in the name of productivity. But, ironically, our loss of sleep, despite the extra hours we put in at work, adds up to more than 11 days of lost productivity per year per worker, or about $2,280. This results in a total annual cost of sleep deprivation to the U.S. economy of more than $63 billion, in the form of absenteeism and presenteeism (when employees are present at work physically but not really mentally focused).”
16Boost their self-esteem
“Outstanding leaders go out of their way to boost the self esteem of their personnel,” said Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton. “If people believe in themselves it’s amazing what they can accomplish.”
“I’ve come to learn there is a virtuous cycle to transparency and a very vicious cycle of obfuscation,” said Jeff Weiner, CEO of LinkedIn. When employees are curious and denied access to information, they become resentful and start digging. “That’s when executive management says, well, clearly we can’t trust our employees with this information. So, we’re going to have to buckle down and release even less information.”
Instead, treat employees “like adults” and be completely transparent.
18Stop talking and start listening
“Leaders who listen are able to create trustworthy relationships that are transparent and breed loyalty. You know the leaders who have their employees’ best interests at heart because they truly listen to them,” writes Glenn Llopis, founder of the Glenn Llopis Group.
“As a leader, it’s difficult to really know what your employees are thinking about, what’s troubling them or how to help them get out of a performance slump – unless you take the time listen to them.”
Llopis adds, “Listening goes well beyond being quiet and giving someone your full attention. It requires you to be aware of body language, facial expressions, mood, and natural behavioural tendencies. Listening should be a full-time job when you consider the uncertainty embedded in the workplace and the on-going changes taking place.”
19Write ‘thank-you’ notes
Harvey Mackay, founder of the MackayMitchell Envelope Company, says that, “The cost of praising someone is nil – but every psychological study shows the payoff is huge. Employees want to be seen as competent, hardworking members of the team. You want satisfied, motivated and productive staff members. What better motivator than thanking employees for their contributions to the company’s success?”
Make sure, however, that you’re sincere, specific, share publicly, and keep the praise on-going.
20They don’t tolerate poor performance
“Anyone running an organisation understands how important talent is,” says Duncan Maru from Possible. “But many early stage social enterprises are impatient, cut corners on hiring, or don’t transition people out quickly enough when things are not working. You need to be aggressive and brutally honest about your talent pool.”
21They hold themselves accountable
Accountability, according to Michael Hyatt, “means that you accept responsibility for the outcomes expected of you – both good and bad. You don’t blame others. And you don’t blame the external environment. There are always things you could have done – or still can do – to change the outcome.”
“Until you take responsibility, you are a victim. And being a victim is the exact opposite of being a leader.”
Hyatt adds, “Victims are passive. They are acted upon. Leaders are active. They take initiative to influence the outcome.”
22They challenge the status quo
“Internally, the impact of the status quo is a stagnant culture that pushes away top performers,” writes Matt Wagner, vice president of strategy at Client Focus.
“Your best employees are driven by the need to do something great. When they run into obstacles that don’t make any sense to them, they start thinking about greener pastures. Of course, the opposite is true of your bureaucrats and your go-along-to-get-along employees. They hope to milk the status quo for as long as possible. They hate change.”
23Have face-to-face discussions
“There’s a temptation in our networked age to think that ideas can be developed by e-mail and iChat,” Steve Jobs told author Walter Isaacson. “That’s crazy. Creativity comes from spontaneous meetings, from random discussions. You run into someone, you ask what they’re doing, you say ‘Wow,’ and soon you’re cooking up all sorts of ideas.”
Don’t be afraid to celebrate your accomplishments. Just celebrate those of others more, recommends Nina Vaca of the Pinnacle Group.
With my company, this means that we celebrate even the little accomplishments of others.
25They encourage continuous learning
“Learning is the minimum requirement for success in your field,” writes Brian Tracy. “Information and knowledge on everything is increasing every day. This means that your knowledge must also increase to keep up.”
The best leaders encourage their employees to read, attend workshops, and conferences so that they “can get ahead in every aspect of” their lives.
This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.
Why Elon Musk’s Vision Should Change Your Business
If you’re not moving forward, you’re moving backward, there’s no sitting on the fence, its one or the other.
It’s about the big picture
Elon Musk is the kind of guy who probably divides the room wherever he goes; in the same way that people either prefer Superman or Batman, soccer or rugby, maybe summer or winter. There’s no sitting on the fence. It’s one or the other. You either like Elon Musk or you don’t. But this article is not about him, its about you and how you are leading your business.
Love him or hate him, I don’t believe any business leader can get away from the fact that Elon Musk, possibly more than any other contemporary entrepreneur, is going to have an influence over your business. And if he doesn’t, he should, not as an individual as much as an archetype.
In the early 2000s another famous South African born entrepreneur Mark Shuttleworth was the first South African to become a space tourist. We were all proud, and asked ourselves what we would do if we had billions of Rands… how would you spend it? Mark’s rigorous preparation and orbit in space riveted the nation, from coffee break conversations to television documentaries and Grade 5 school projects. Everyone was talking about it. Mark’s trip was ultimately the fulfilment of one man’s personal ambition, a dream long-held and finally fulfilled.
Aligning the planets
Elon Musk seems to be a different kind of dreamer. He does not only dream for himself, he dreams for humanity and that is rare. It is also why I think that his vision is something that every business leader should take note of. Look at any Start-up:101 Pitch Deck and you’ll likely see Guy Kawasaki’s famous 10, 20, 30 format and the first slide trying to answer the question, “What problem are you solving?”
Imagine setting yourself the problem of transitioning humanity into becoming a “multi-planetary species”, as Musk famously declared in a 2017 TED interview, and if that’s not enough, you are also working to revolutionise transport and save the environment through clean energy. In my view, Elon Musk (flawed as he may be) represents, two essential qualities that are absolutely indispensable for leaders and businesses of the future: Hope and Vision.
The lever that Musk has chosen to crank open the future, restore hope and unlock his vision, is technology. Misunderstood and much maligned, technology; like Musk, also instantly divides a room.
Technophiles on the one side, technophobes on the other and you must choose. You cannot half use technology, you either opt in or you opt out. The only choice is whether you will use technology responsibly or not. This is no small question and something that many business leaders (including Musk) have shown some commitment to by adding their support to organisations such as the Future of Life Institute.
Ships are not built to stay in the harbour
Technology is agnostic, it is neither good or bad. It’s influence lies in how you choose to use it. With so much talk about the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR), and how it is going to impact our lives and, in a business context, the lives of our employees it seems prudent that, as leaders, we establish a clear vision for technology in our businesses with due cognisance of how it is likely to impact our staff and our customers alike.
A business that integrates machine learning and AI into its business management system, for example, may in future have unprecedented access to information, provide intuitive robotic support 24/7, and the power to influence behaviour. This goes beyond ‘old-school’ marketing and advertising, heading into untested waters.
While we should rightly rely on our policy makers and legislators to put regulatory frameworks in place to guide how we use technology, as business leaders we should already be taking the first steps towards developing a technology-use policy in our businesses.
Like Musk, our aim should be to bring hope and share a vision. A hope that, even with the threat of diminishing resources in our businesses, we are up to the task of conceiving novel and exciting alternatives that, even if it looks different than in the past, are able to meet the needs of our people. And a vision, not just to increase shareholder value or to be the leaders in our field, but something aspirational.
A commitment to lift eyes and hearts with a big vision, maybe not for interplanetary travel, but at least to let your Enterprise boldly go where it has not gone before, not as a tourist, but as the captain of your ship. Because if you’re not moving forward, you’re moving backward, there’s no sitting on the fence, its one or the other.
6 Ways To Lead In The Multi-leader Economy
Why business leaders today compete for mindshare among their employees, and how they can lead.
I recently attended an event where a CEO delivered the company’s annual results and outlined its future strategy. He closed the talk with some inspirational content to get the team excited about the year ahead.
While I listened to this business leader speak, I also had my eye on the audience. While the content was relevant and inspiring, the narrative and delivery was off. This was evident in the audience, who seemed disengaged – most had their faces in their phones. These employees, who should be inspired by their leader, were simply biding their time, waiting for the next speaker.
Was it because they’re generally rude, disengaged people? Not at all. In fact, they were a phenomenally switched-on crowd when we presented to them. So why weren’t they listening intently to the proverbial captain of the ship?
Leadership competition hotting up
I believe it’s because leaders today are competing for the attention of those they lead. People are exposed to hundreds of potential leaders in their daily lives, and that number grows daily as the internet brings a whole host of outside influence into reach.
While many of these influencers are not tasked with leading, per se, great leaders seldom have to force a following. They naturally build one through an innate ability. They achieve this by delivering inspiring and engaging content on a regular basis via platforms like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, podcasts or TED.com.
And it’s not just inspirational visionaries like Jobs or Branson who people listen to today. Anyone with a strong message can self-publish to spark debate, inspire or influence.
Understand the new dynamic
Accordingly, whenever a leader steps up to deliver something relevant to their team, they need to be aware that in the past 24 hours their audience has probably watched people like Simon Sinek, Mel Robbins or Will Smith deliver a message that could spark a different way of thinking.
If you’re a business leader and have not considered the possibility that your team is also being influenced and, often, led by a host of other leaders, then you’re in for a tough time. The reality is that leaders now face fierce competition, and as the head of an organisation you need to take charge and own that space.
Here’s how you can take the lead in leadership:
1. Maintain face-to-face engagements
This is still the best way to work, especially when talking about important matters. I have a standing one-hour meeting with my team every three weeks. I open this session with a 10-15 minute talk on a specific topic I feel is important. The remaining time is used for open discussion. These sessions have been incredibly powerful, because it’s an opportunity for everyone to have their say, share their views and contribute to growing the business and the team, together.
2. Write narrative that catalyses conversation
This pertains to the content of your engagements. This needs to be something that’s not only on your agenda, but also on your employees’ agenda. People need both answers and guidance, but when leaders and teams can work on both aspects together, magic happens.
3. Deliver with conviction
Leaders often throw out a concern, hoping that it gets resolved. You can’t do that. Leaders need to stand up and deliver with passion to galvanise their teams. Sure, be part of the conversation, and ensure that your team knows how important it this, but understand that it’s more than just a conversation.
4. Get them to challenge you
The proverbial ‘open door policy’ requires employees to walk up to the door. Our regular team session offers me the opportunity to ask everyone, collectively, about their thoughts on a subject. I’m basically standing at the open door and asking them to come in, and not just randomly, but to discuss something pertinent.
5. Make the changes required
After listening to your team, take action. Due to the influence of social media, society today is plagued by “ask-holes” – people who ask for advice or ideas, but never action them. Leaders need to listen and take action. Not that you should do everything you team asks, of course, but listening is the first step to understanding, and action needs to follow.
6. Rinse, repeat
Effective leadership is not an annual speaking engagement. It requires constant work to keep teams focused on the business. The biggest failure in most businesses is a lack of communication, which is something leaders need to constantly work on.
Want To Achieve Greatness? Force Everyone Out Of Their Comfort Zones
Diverse teams are better performing teams, but only when they are inclusive.
Working in a diverse team feels uncomfortable and that’s why we perform better. Discomfort arouses our brain, which leads to better performance.
Diverse teams are smarter teams. They have higher rates of innovation, error detection and creative problem solving. In environments that possess diverse stakeholders, being able to have different perspectives in the room may even enable more alignment with varied customer needs.
Being able to think from different perspectives actually lights up areas of the brain, such as the emotional centres needed for perspective taking that would previously not be activated in similar or non-diverse groups.
In a nutshell, you use more of your brain when you encourage different perspectives by including different views in the room. However, work done at the NeuroLeadership Institute has proven that this only works when diverse teams are inclusive, and this still remains a key challenge in business today.
When we consider the amount of diversity present in the modern workplace and the addition of more diverse thinking as a result of globalisation and the use of virtual work teams, it’s clear that the ability to unlock the power of diversity is just waiting to be unleashed.
Here’s how you can unlock this powerful performance driver.
The Social Brain
Despite the rich sources of diversity present in most workplaces, companies are still often unable to leverage the different perspectives available to them in driving business goals. Recent breakthroughs in neuroscience have enabled us to understand why. The major breakthrough has centred around the basic needs of the social brain.
We have an instinctual need to continually define whether we are within an in-group or an out-group. This is an evolutionary remnant of the brain that enabled us to strive to remain within a herd or group where we had access to social support structures, food and potential mates. If we were part of the out-group it could literally have meant life or death. We are therefore hypersensitive to feelings of exclusion as it affected our survival.
The brain is further hardwired for threat and unconsciously scans our environments for threats five times a second. This means, coupled with our life or death need for group affiliation, we are hypersensitive to finding sameness and a need for in-group inclusion.
When we heard a rustle in a bush it was safer to assume that it may be a lion than a gust of wind. It is this threat detection network that has kept us alive until today. The challenge is that society has developed faster than our brains. In times of uncertainty we often jump to what is more threatening.
Some of the ways that this plays out is when we leave someone out of an email and they begin to wonder why they were left out. The problem is that it’s easy to unconsciously exclude someone if we are not actively including. The trouble occurs when we incorrectly use physical proxies to define in-group and out-group, as this is the most readily available evidence used unconsciously by the brain.
Barriers to Inclusion
A study done between a diverse group and non-diverse group demonstrates how this plays out in the work place. Both groups completed a challenging task and were asked how they felt they did as a team after the exercise.
The effectiveness of the team and how they perceived effectiveness were both measured in the study. It’s no surprise that the diverse team did better in the completion of the problem-solving task, but what is surprising is that they felt they did not do well. In contrast, the non-diverse team did worse, but felt that they had done well.
Working in a diverse team feels uncomfortable and that’s why we perform better. Discomfort arouses our brain, which leads to better performance. It feels easier to work in a team where we feel at ease in sameness, but in that environment we are more prone to groupthink and are less effective.
We can’t assume that when we place diverse teams together we will automatically reap the rewards of higher team performance. As discussed, we’re hardwired for sameness and if we’re not actively including, we may be unconsciously excluding.
If we want diversity to become a silver bullet, we need to actively make efforts to find common ground amongst disparate team members. This in turn will build team cohesion and create a sense of unity, including reminders of a shared purpose and shared goals. Many global businesses put an emphasis on a shared corporate culture that supersedes individual difference.
It’s the same mechanism that is used in science fiction films that bond individuals together against a common alien invasion. It can also be used to describe why we felt such a great sense of accomplishment during the 2010 World Cup as we banded together as a nation.
We must also make sure we uplift all team members by sharing credit widely when available and recognising performance. The last thing we can do to further inclusion is to create clarity for teams. By removing ambiguity, we allow individuals to not jump to conclusions about their membership within groups and calm their minds so they can use their mental capacity to focus on the task at hand.
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