Some people think that entrepreneurs are the 1-in-a-million business celebrities we read about online, but the truth is that most business leaders are normal folks like the rest of us.
Sure, they might have a natural inclination for risk or a slight intelligence advantage, but here’s the truth: they’ve trained themselves over time and cultivated key skills to be great leaders.
What are the leadership skills you need to be a victorious entrepreneur in the 21st century? Here’s a list of the top areas to focus on if you wish to blaze a trail in business for yourself.
Complete Clarity of Vision
The old-school business greats made it clear in 20th-century writing: think and grow rich. Visualization is not some esoteric idea for monks to contemplate in the mountains, so build a vision of a business in your mind before setting pen to paper.
You might start with an issue of common convenience, or maybe a societal problem that needs to be addressed. The best businesses make our lives easier and more enjoyable, so use that prompt as a jumping-off point for any idea you conjure.
“Leadership, to us, is all about authenticity,” said Olamide Olowe, Founder and CEO of Topicals. “Be unapologetically you, don’t bend on your beliefs, and don’t let others tell you to feel any less about your ideas. Being confident and authentic in who you are is exactly the kind of leader you have to be in this world.”
People will doubt you and say your concept can’t be made real, but that’s the essence of the entrepreneur’s journey! Embrace the challenge and push your vision to the limits to see innovation take place before your eyes.
Honesty and Integrity
Business people sometimes get a bad rap in the media as cutthroat and untrustworthy. Those characters may exist, but they never achieve the success they want. The sleazy salesperson may make a big sale, but that reputation will lead them nowhere.
Staying honest and showing integrity is far more important for longevity in business.
This means making real connections with business partners and being accessible to employees, even when they fall short of their own standards.
“Showing empathy, but also always focusing on the goal at hand,” said Gleamin Founder Jordan Smyth. “To be a good leader, you must show strength but also accept and celebrate mistakes. When you slip up, share it with your team to show that you are human too. We want to encourage initiative, but that will only happen if team members feel comfortable making mistakes”.
There is no definitive textbook on business leadership – it’s still being written right now, in the real world each day. Nevertheless, these traits are universal and timeless, offering a blueprint for ambitious people who want to make waves in the business world.
It’s a cliché at this point, but true for a reason: you must eliminate the word “cannot” from your vocabulary if entrepreneurship is your goal.
The doubters and haters will come in droves when you start getting traction – even from your own ranks. That’s when you need to double down on positivity and keep the good vibes flowing.
“You need to have a very infectiously positive attitude,” said Rishi Kulkarni, Co-Founder and CEO of Revv. “If you want to lead people you need to be someone who constantly shares positivity. You have to foster a good spirit in the team and make everyone see the attractiveness of the job and the mission.”
On the flip side, you can’t let success inflate or damage your ego in any event. Whether you just earned a big funding boost or fell flat on an important pitch, keep your eyes on the prize and stay positive as your default mode.
Set a Strong Example
Whether they like it or not, entrepreneurs tend to be at the center of attention, and nearly every move they make will be scrutinized in some way.
From the way they carry themselves and shake hands to what they eat for lunch, all these small details impact the environment around them with a positive or negative net effect. A business leader is like a mini-celebrity, and must have the right mix of assuredness and awareness to navigate the many challenges they face.
“Being a leader is all about humble confidence with a strong dash of persuasion,” said William Schumacher, Founder and CEO of Uprising Food. “One must exude confidence in their convictions so that others will follow, yet at the same time, have the humility to adjust the vision or the steps to get there.”
Too much (unfounded) self-belief can lead to a quick demise, while being too soft-spoken won’t get a business off the ground. The best leaders in business find the perfect balance and know when to change course.
Culture of Recognition
Business leaders shouldn’t shy away positive reinforcement and recognition, especially in the digital era. Employees who feel valued stay engaged and put forth their best effort.
After all, who doesn’t want to be told they’re doing a good job, and their work is appreciated? Give employees something to smile about and your kind words will come back around.
“At VETCBD, we celebrate any accomplishments and successes and discuss setbacks that inevitably occur along the way,” said Dr. Tim Shu, Founder and CEO of VETCBD Hemp. “We like to give thanks and share those stories on our Slack channels so all employees can collaboratively celebrate our wins.”
Never forget the human element of management and business leadership. These factors will set your company above the rest in times of adversity, bring teams together, and make miracles happen.
Creators at Heart
Pick any great entrepreneur and you’ll see a creative soul somewhere behind all the buzzwords, boardroom meetings, and billion-dollar deals. These are people who have a burning desire to build and share their ideas, even if it doesn’t mean reinventing the wheel.
The 21st-century entrepreneur is also somewhat of a mini-celeb or entertainer. They must convey information in a fun, engaging, and informative way to investors and audiences to get on board with their brands. Just look at how CEOs engage on social media these days – very differently from past generations.
A passionate leader is one who truly cares and broadcasts authentic energy out into the web and the world at large.
“If you love what you’re doing… that will make it so much easier to actually sit down and create content, inspire, entertain, and educate. That’s what’s really important,” said Internet Marketing Guru and Writer Jeff Bullas.
Ability to Pivot and Adjust
Nothing is certain in the world of business, and as the leader (and figurehead) of your company, it’s your role to roll with the punches. Build your ability to make quick pivots in light of new data, or shift priorities on the fly when you least expect.
“Pivoting, in essence, is the ability to make a sharp and assured move when you are at a turning point. If you want to be successful you have to accept that not everything you think up will work; not every idea you have is actually bright,” said Benjamin Smith, Founder and CEO of Disco. “Pivoting is a pertinent skill that is mandatory for progress. In situations where what you’re producing is not producing the results you seek, you must be able to pivot and allocate your attention elsewhere to proceed with your venture.”
Remember, pivoting isn’t the same as retreating or giving up. It’s a necessary skill to practice if you want to capitalize on the opportunities in front of you. You will fall and fail at first, but eventually you’ll be unstoppable.
Lead with Compassion
We imagine the startup CEO to be tough-as-nails, unwilling to compromise with employees or bend to the will of others. This is an outdated idea of a business leader.
Much more compassion is required for success in the current era, when teams need to be highly coordinated to be effective. Just barking orders from the corner office will not do a CEO much good anymore.
“Employees appreciate having a relationship of mutual benefit with their employer,” said Seek Capital CEO Roy Ferman. “No one wants to continue working for someone that purely takes from them. Employ some type of system that will provide employees with a feeling that they are in fact appreciated and cherished. Whether that be bonuses, food, paid time off, etc., give them something they can value themselves.”
Empathy has its benefits, but CEOs must stand their ground in difficult situations as well. The most successful leaders strike a balance between multiple leadership styles and maintain a high level of trust and familiarity with employees.
Staying Cool Under Pressure
Sometimes, success is just a matter of holding onto hope when everything around you seems to be coming apart. The events of 2020 showcased many of these incidents.
While some companies folded early to prevent losses, others remained steadfast and kept experimenting with different ideas until they found a fix.
“Things are never as good or as bad as they seem,” said Alex Keyan, Founder and CEO of goPure Beauty. “In the second half of March, revenue for all online businesses dropped a lot. People were freaking out, and many employees got laid off. We stayed firm and even made a sale for our customers, which benefited the CDC foundation to provide PPE equipment to front line responders to the virus. In the next 30 days, online sales doubled for all ecommerce businesses, and we were glad we kept our team.”
There is a valuable lesson here that applies to business and life in general – stick with it and exhaust all your options before even considering defeat as a possibility.
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