If you want to succeed in business, you have to learn from those who came before you.For the past 30 years, I have owned and operated my own professional services firm. I started in a one-room office with just myself. Now I own a 20-person company, which has been selected twice as one of the 25 Best Places to Work in Maine, and is recognized as one of the leading accounting firms in Maine. Over the years, I have talked with and listened to many people – clients, entrepreneurs, attorneys, bankers, consultants, you name it. The following are the four most useful pieces of advice that I learned from some of the best in business.
4 Tips to Succeed as a Business Leader:
1) When I was a young man still finding my professional foothold, I was given important advice. It was this: My very best thinking had gotten me to where I was. However, if I wanted to be successful, I could not rely only on my own thinking. I had to ask questions and be able to take—and actually listen to—advice from others. This included looking beyond my own assumptions to “get it right” as opposed to “being right.”
Bottom line: Ask questions and learn from others’ experience. You can’t do it on your own.
2) Leadership depends on three characteristics: Appreciation, respect, and trust. Sure, you can be the head of an organization based solely on ownership or position. But if you want people to follow you, work hard for you, and care about your business, you need to put them first.
Appreciation: Employees want to feel the work they put in day in and day out is valued. If you do not or cannot appreciate what they are doing for you, find someone or something that you can appreciate. Ensure your employees know you appreciate them by telling them every chance you get.
Respect: It takes respect to get respect. Treat every employee with the same level of respect. Respect their ideas, opinions, and contribution to the company. Demonstrate respect for your clients and business associates as well. Mutually respectful relationships with your business associates and peers builds a stronger respect from your employees.
Trust: Trust is a two-way street and, simply put, if you cannot trust your employees, then why do you keep them? And if your employees do not trust you, then they will not follow you, or stay long term.
Bottom-line: Appreciation, respect, and trust will take you far as a business leader. Don’t forget them!
3) Don’t jump to conclusions or make assumptions about how others will react to certain situations. I have spent countless hours debating the best solution for many different situations, decisions, and actions, only to find myself held back by my assumptions of how the opposite party will react. Instead of acting on some of my ideas, I hesitated in fear of the unknown, only to find out that I was completely wrong. Do not be afraid of what you do not want to hear. The risk of not acting because of an incorrect assumption is much greater, and potentially more costly, than the repercussions of an adverse reaction.
Bottom-line: Don’t assume what other people think, talk to them and ask them what they think.
4) Find people who will “stick.” Investing in your team can deliver the best ROI for your business, but only if they stick. You need to find people who can commit to you and your company. Hire people who are loyal, reliable, and a good cultural fit for your business. Take the time to carefully vet candidates to make the best decision possible. Losing someone after you have invested in them, and they are fully functioning and trained, can be one the most disruptive and costly things that can happen to your business.
Bottom-line: Choose your investments wisely—especially your investments in people.
At the end of the day, business is still about relationships. The four pieces of advice above have helped me to not only attract, but also retain great employees and great clients. One last suggestion for improving your leadership skills and succeeding in business: Be friendly, smile, control your anger and frustration, and actively manage your stress. Owning a business is very rewarding, but also at times very difficult, stressful, and frustrating. Your energy and attitude will become your company’s energy and attitude. Make sure it’s a winning combination.