Category "Lessons"

Here are three tips for entrepreneurs as they build and lead their business for long-term success.

6 min read

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

I’ve spent the last 50 years of my life immersed in the high-tech world, building four successful businesses along the way. As you might imagine at age 74, I’ve seen a lot of things, done a lot of things, worked with a lot of different people and learned some invaluable lessons over time.

Related: You Can’t Lead Effectively Without Trust

A recurring misconception among the entrepreneur community that has withstood the past five decades is that only the “idea generators” are successful entrepreneurs. It’s true that despite the fact that products, markets and customers evolve, behind every business is the foundation — the “big idea” that serves as the spark for building a company. But, it’s also equally true that businesses need more than an idea to succeed.

Throughout my career, I’ve never been the “idea person.” I am far from it. But, I know how to shape and morph ideas into successful strategies, products and companies. The most important thing I’ve learned is that you need both the idea people and the business people to make a company successful — and they both need to sing from the same leadership songbook.

Here are the three most important tips for both types of leaders as they work side by side to build and lead their business for long-term success.

Leave your egos at the door.

It’s OK to not be the smartest person in the room. I’ve found that hiring employees who are smarter than you and have diverse skill sets can create long-term success. Leverage your leadership skills to push your team to grow from smart people to smart leaders. The ability to manage future leaders is a skill set within itself. Build your executive team and guide them with sound advice and counsel, being respectful and listening along the way.

Related: Are You a Boss or a Leader?

I first learned the value of checking my ego when I started working with a certain gentleman at Q1 Labs. At Q1, I was responsible for building a strategic leadership team that could drive the business forward. Within two hours of meeting this person, I recognized he was bright and technically skilled — and much smarter than me. He excelled at discerning technical problems and hiring top talent to solve them. His intuition, coupled with my mentorship, helped form a dynamic team. Before I knew it, I was promoting him to VP of marketing and then three more times until he ultimately became CEO.

The strongest leaders will recognize their own weaknesses, identify people who can help complement them — and will not be threatened by others’ talents. You simply can’t do it all. Entrepreneurs must remember that it’s okay to seek support and guidance at every stage of the company’s development. Surrounding yourself with accomplished professionals and leadership will result in a strong, creative team that can generate new ideas and continue to challenge you to be a better leader.

Build relationships beyond the boardroom.

Yes, every business owner needs to establish strong working relationships with company leadership and other employees, but getting to know one another outside of the office walls is just as important.

Since my first leadership position, I’ve made it a priority to take a personal interest in my employees. Understanding their backgrounds and experiences helped deepen my understanding of how they think, what motivates them and how they view success. By understanding backgrounds and motivations, business leaders can help idea generators shine and bring their vision to life.

Related: The Strengths and Weaknesses of 4 Distinct Leadership Strategies

Getting a glimpse into a person’s life outside of work can provide important insight into a person’s work life, habits and strategy. For example, Tom Turner is BitSight‘s CEO. I’ve always said I would love to be Turner’s neighbor, as he is a great father and husband. I’ve known Turner for 18 years, and I respect him thoroughly both in and outside of work. And the way Turner acts in his personal life matches his personality as CEO.

By taking the time to get to know one another outside of the office, entrepreneurs can establish a deeper bond with their leadership team and investment in the success of the business.

Demand respect, transparency and fairness at all times.

I won’t sugarcoat it. At times, leading a business will be stressful. Not everyone will agree on the next go-to-market strategy. You’ll go through growing pains and rough patches where sales are down or an important person unexpectedly leaves. The challenges are many. Critical to getting your team through these trying periods is working together to establish a foundation of unrelenting respect, openness and fairness.

This goes beyond being kind. For example, all employees deserve a second chance — except when crossing ethical boundaries. I make it known I have an open-door policy and that employees are welcome to give me feedback. We have a low attrition rate at BitSight, and it’s important that employees enjoy coming to work.

Consistency and fairness are also paramount. For example, avoid being inconsistent with policies such as pay, promotions, vacations and benefits; and avoid promoting someone to a higher title from the outside. This instills trust and respect within your team. Businesses thrive when the people who make up the internal team work hard and earn a move to the next level.

Related: If You Only Take One Piece of Leadership Advice, It Should Be This

Sharing these lessons

Over the past five decades, I’ve seen it all — the good, the bad and sometimes the ugly. Since beginning my career in 1969, I’ve kept mental and written notes on the high-tech industry, the companies where I’ve worked, and have kept these lessons close to heart along the way.

While I never considered myself to be the idea generator, I’m now coaching young entrepreneurs to find their own successful idea. I encourage them to check their egos and not be afraid of others’ talent, to truly get to know their colleagues, to establish an environment rooted in fairness and respect — and most importantly, to work extremely hard at whatever they do.

If I’ve truly succeeded, in 2068 at least one of these young leaders will be reflecting on 50 years in business and passing these and their own lessons learned onto the next generation of serial entrepreneurs.

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There is so much to learn from Queen and Freddie Mercury.

7 min read

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Recently, I took my 16-year-old son Tyler to the movies to see Bohemian Rhapsody. One-on-one time with teenagers is precious, so you always want it to go well. And it did.

Related: 3 Startup Lessons From Hip Hop Entrepreneurs

We both enjoyed the movie, but the better moments happened afterwards. When Tyler asked me what I thought about the film, I told him that it was inspirational. In a way only a teenager can, he replied, “Are you going to start a rock band and die of AIDS?”

There is so much to learn from Queen and Freddie Mercury. Here are eight lessons for entrepreneurs.

“Under Pressure”: Preparation generates luck.

Imagine handing a couple songs you’d written to a band, then hearing them say their lead singer just quit. What big break are you hoping for? What company do you need to pitch?

If that magic moment happened now, would you be prepared? Do you know what you would say, do, or ask for?

“Killer Queen”: Different is better than better.

A self-proclaimed “hysterical queen” led a rock group to become the most popular band in the world. Every super-successful person I interviewed for my bestselling book has a similar story. These are not the top 1 percent. These are people whose millions of dollars of annual income put them in the top 0.01 percent of our population.

When Gordon Logan wanted to start a hair cutting business for men and boys, everyone said, “That already exists. It’s called a barbershop. It will never work.” With more than 1,700 Sport Clips locations and a Joe Gibbs Racing car with his logo on it, it’s safe to say his critics were wrong.

Trust your gut and do something different.

Related: 10 Quotes From America’s Rebellious Musical Legend Johnny Cash

“Don’t Stop Me Now”: Think bigger.

When a local band gets a chance to tour Japan, they say they want to tour America. Your investors, partners, friends and employees will all compare you to someone in your industry. If you only think about being better than your immediate competition, you are missing the opportunity. Consider ideas from other industries and incorporate them into your business so you can dominate your space.

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf once said at a Harvard commencement speech, “If your dreams do not scare you, they are not big enough.” Did she practice what she preached? Sirleaf became the first elected head of state in Africa, when she was elected as the 24th president of Liberia in 2006.

“Somebody to Love”: See your negatives as a positive.

Having extra teeth makes for a strange appearance. It also allows you to open your mouth wider and to have greater range as a singer. What challenges have you turned into excuses?

I used to own a boutique insurance agency. When I had a chance to pitch one of the nation’s more successful law firms, I was up against some heavyweights. So, I offered to help the firm create its own agency and eliminate me from the equation after a few years. I ultimately landed the account because I was willing to show them how they wouldn’t need insurance people in the future. I made millions of dollars from the relationship before I was replaced.

Too small to compete? You are nimble and can react faster to changing customer needs. Don’t have brick-and-mortar locations for new customers? You can go set up shop inside your customers’ offices and provide better service. Write down three things that you think are holding you back, then write down how those things could be positives.

Related: Long Live the King: How Today’s Entrepreneurs Can Follow Elvis Presley’s Ingenious Business Playbook

“I Want It All”: F*** formulas.

If Queen had listened to their record label, they never would have released “Bohemian Rhapsody” as a single. It was too long. It was weird. It was heavily criticized. It was also a global No. 1 hit — twice!

A mentor of mine in my early year taught me a valuable lesson. When doing roll-ups, he would hire senior management exclusively from other industries. When I asked him why, he replied, “If I do things like other people in the industry, I won’t be creating any real change or any real value.” Where do you find your creative ideas?

“We Will Rock You”: Give the people what they want.

The key to Queen’s success was their ability to connect with the audience. They understood this even better than their producers and record labels did. Most people focus on what other companies have done, in the past, to sell to their clients. Sometimes, they overreact and completely misjudge their customers’ desires. Remember “New Coke”?

Instead, prepare to sell your clients what they will need in the future.

To paraphrase the late Steve Jobs, people don’t know what they want until they see it. It’s your job to create and sell it. Jeff Bezos took this idea and ran with it. Amazon wasn’t just the first place to sell books online. Amazon sold clothes before online retailers were on board. Amazon even put the toy giant Toys ‘R Us out of business. Kids loved going to toy stores, but parents hated the experience.

Do you know what your clients love and hate about your industry?

Related: From Paper Boy to Music Mogul: Entrepreneurship Lessons From Sean ‘Diddy’ Combs

“I Want to Break Free”: Take the blame.

Calling your friends into a room and admitting you were an asshole takes guts. Taking full responsibility for a bad situation, offering to make amends and being willing to consider what others suggest is the sign of a great leader.

Even Mark Zuckerberg may have changed his tune lately. After a history of news reports indicating a lot of finger pointing and not much thumbs up, he seemed to take some responsibility in front of Congress in April.

You are supposed to have the answers and see the better path, but you are not perfect. Think about what you needed to handle better in the past. Go take the blame, apologize and ask for forgiveness. Do it this week.

“We Are the Champions”: Do good. Be good. Make good.

Freddie Mercury’s father, Bomi Bulsara, had a quote that came up over and over again: “Good words. Good thoughts. Good deeds.” If you say what you think, and do what you say, you will be authentic. If the true goal of what you do is to help other people, there is no limit to the amount of success you can achieve.

Over the last 10 years, the insurance industry has been pretty stagnant. During that same time, National Life Group has doubled in size while focusing on serving teachers and middle America. It sponsors a “Life Changer” program that awards dozens of scholarships and receives over 900 nominations. It practices what it preaches and put its money where its mouths are.

Commit to helping others. Speak you mind. Do what you say you will do. When you do, you will rock everyone around you and become a true champion.

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