Successful business leaders aren’t born entrepreneurial. It’s a skill that they learn over time, and perfect as they go.
Whether it’s by reading their books, listening to podcasts, or watching for patterns of success to reproduce, there are many ways to absorb the teachings of the successful.
To help you get started, Business Insider has pulled together a list of 10 things every business leader can learn from the world’s greatest entrepreneurs.
1. Getting up early
Richard Branson, founder and chairman of the Virgin Group is notorious for this.
In an interview with Business Insider, Branson revealed that he wakes up at around 5.45am, even when staying at his private island, leaving the curtains drawn so the sun gets him up.
He does his best to use those extra hours to exercise before an early breakfast and getting to work.
Similarly, Apple CEO Tim Cook is an early riser.
He’s been known to get up and send company emails at 4.30am in the morning, according to Gawker’s Ryan Tate.
By 5am he can be found in the gym. And he works late too, priding himself on being the first in the office and the last out.
2. Reading widely
While Bill Gates has a schedule that’s planned down to the minute, the entrepreneur-turned-billionaire-humanitarian still gobbles up about a book a week and makes sure to get a daily dose of news.
Aside from a handful of novels, the books he reads are mostly nonfiction covering his and his foundation’s broad range of interests. A lot of them are about transforming systems: how nations can intelligently develop, how to lead an organisation, and how social change can fruitfully happen.
Every morning he also sure to read the daily news covering a wide array of topics. He gets alerts for stories on Berkshire Hathaway, where he sits on the board of directors. According to Fox Business, Gates also reads the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, and the Economist cover-to-cover.
Another avid reader is Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, who this year made a New Year’s resolution to read a book every two weeks.
He wanted his selections to focus on “different cultures, beliefs, histories, and technologies.”
“Books allow you to fully explore a topic and immerse yourself in a deeper way than most media today,” he wrote on his Facebook page. “I’m looking forward to shifting more of my media diet towards reading books.”
To achieve this, he started the A Year of Books book club, in which he discusses the books he’s reading with members of the Facebook community.
See some of his suggestions here.
3. Prioritising and organising time
The most successful CEOs have killer time management skills. A real understanding of how to prioritise and delegate is what separates CEOs of global companies from the rest, according to research by Columbia University’s Andrea Prat.
The economics professor tracked the behaviour of a range of CEOs and found that most fall into one of two categories.
Style 1: CEOs plan more activities in advance, spend more time at the firm and in meetings, meet more with insiders than outsiders, and have more multiparty meetings.
Style 2: CEOs are more reactive, have more meetings with people outside the firm, and spend more time on bilateral meetings.
According to her findings, the companies with Style 1 CEOs were almost 50% more productive.
Prat suggests the productivity increases because Style 1 behaviours are fundamentally better, workers emulate them and become more organised. Read more here.
4. Building value
One of the amazing characteristics of Amazon from an investor’s perspective is that it has basically never earned a profit.
Despite this, the company’s stock has gone up and up and it remains a hugely valuable business.
This is something many other companies wish they could get away with.
So, how does Amazon get away with it? How can it forgo profits and yet still have a strong stock?
CEO Jeff Bezos’ advice is tell everyone from the very outset what you’re doing, and stick to it.
For Amazon that has been having a few strong, profitable businesses and using that money to fund other businesses.
To paraphrasing Bezos: Nobody who pays for a rock show wants to see the ballet.
5. Clarity of vision
Self-made industrialist Andrew Carnegie was the wealthiest man on the planet in the early 20th century and was a student of what it takes to achieve greatness. His book “Think and Grow Rich,” which remains one of the bestselling books of all time, shares his strategies for success and what it takes to achieve one’s potential.
“The majority of people in this world could be very successful if they would just make up their minds how much success they want and on what terms they want to evaluate success,” Hill writes.
“Instead of thinking about the things you don’t want, the things you fear, the things you distrust, the things you dislike, think about all the things you like, all the things you want, and all the things you’re going to become determined to get,” Hill writes.
6. Having a view of what the future will look like
Self-made billionaire Warren Buffett might be known for his unique stock-picking skills but Carol Loomis argues that his success comes mostly from his ability to believe in his own skills and refusal to follow the crowd.
In her book titled “Tap Dancing to Work: Warren Buffett on Practically Everything,” Loomis reflects on “the sage of Omaha.”
“I look for businesses in which I can predict what they’re going to look like in 10 or 15 or 20 years,” says Buffet. “That means businesses that will look more or less as they do today, except that they’ll be larger and doing more business internationally.
“I focus on the absence of change. When I look at the Internet, for example, I try and figure out how an industry or a company can be hurt or changed by it, and then I avoid it.”
7. Working with people they respect
Again reflecting on the advice of Buffett, successful business people try to surround themselves with people that are not only smarter than themselves but also people that they respect.
“I have turned down business deals that were otherwise decent deals because I didn’t like the people I would have to work with,” he is quoted as saying in Tap Dancing to Work: Warren Buffett on Practically Everything, “I didn’t see any sense in pretending.”
“To get involved with people who cause your stomach to churn — I say it’s a lot like marrying for money. It’s probably a bad idea under any circumstances, but it’s absolutely crazy if you’re already rich, rich?”
8. Courtesy with criticism
“How to Win Friends & Influence People,” which was published by Dale Carnegie in 1936, is a collection of insights into human nature and have been used by some of the world’s greatest leaders throughout modern history.
According to Carnegie the best leaders, from presidents to successful business owners, ease into criticism and do so indirectly.
Leaders need to point out when their team members aren’t meeting expectations or need to be disciplined, but this should be done in a graceful way that doesn’t plant the seeds of resentment, he said.
This can be done by recognising the accomplishments of the individual in question before pointing out a flaw.
“Beginning with praise is like the dentist who begins his work with Novocain,” Carnegie wrote.
He also cited an anecdote about steel magnate Charles Schwab. Schwab was passing through one of his mills when he noticed employees smoking by a sign demanding they refrain from the activity on the premises. Rather than furiously pointing at the sign, Schwab gave the men some cigars and cordially said he’d appreciate it if they smoked them outside.
9. Not sleeping much
Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo, gained a reputation early on in her career for being an extremely hard worker at Google, working as many as 130 hours some weeks, leaving little time for sleep.
The Guardian reports that she needs only four to six hours a night. She recharges by taking week-long breaks every four months.
She even gets so deeply invested in a project that she has been known to sleep at her desk for maximum productivity.
Jack Dorsey, CEO Twitter and Square has a similar approach to sleeping.
Being at the head of two exciting tech companies doesn’t leave too much time for rest. In fact in 2011 Dorsey told All Things D that he was spending 8-10 hours a day at Square, and 8-10 hours a day at Twitter. That doesn’t leave much time for shut eye!
10. Admitting their mistakes
This is also a teaching found in Carnegie’s “How to Win Friends & Influence People”.
“Admitting one’s own mistakes — even when one hasn’t corrected them — can help convince somebody to change his behaviour,” he wrote.
But it’s also a practice up held up by Microsoft boss Satya Nadella.
When Nadella made a comment about how women shouldn’t ask for raises, he promptly admitted it was wrong — and did so twice to make up for it.
The second time was in a memo directly to his employees, which Todd Bishop at GeekWire got.
“One of the answers I gave at the conference was generic advice that was just plain wrong. I apologise. For context, I had received this advice from my mentors and followed it in my own career.
“My advice underestimated exclusion and bias — conscious and unconscious — that can hold people back. Any advice that advocates passivity in the face of bias is wrong. Leaders need to act and shape the culture to root out biases and create an environment where everyone can effectively advocate for themselves.”
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