Leadership

25 Leadership Lessons From Millionaire Business Owners

Build your team with the employees who just want a leader that helps them excel.
25 Leadership Lessons From Millionaire Business Owners
Image credit: David A. Grogan | CNBC | Getty Images

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.

1. Believe 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?”

Related: 'Screw It, Just Do It': Exclusive Video Interview With Richard Branson

“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.”

2. Prioritize and delegate.

As all entrepreneurs know, you live and die by your ability to prioritize.” 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.”

3. Hire 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.”

4. Give 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.”

5. Set 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 organization."

6. Be nice.

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.

Related: Mark Cuban's 3 'Smart Money Moves Everyone Should Make'

7. Plan 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.”

Related: Shark Tank's Barbara Corcoran: Real Winners Say 'Hit Me Again'

Corcoran also says that this can bring out the creative side of your employees.

8. Constantly evolve.

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.

9. Mentor 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 recognizing 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.”

10. Leaders 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."

11. Create 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.

Related: Mark Zuckerberg: 'Entrepreneurship Is About Creating Change, Not Just Creating Companies'

“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.”

12. Treat employees like royalty.

“We treat our people like royalty. If you honor and serve the people who work for you, they will honor and serve you,” said Mary Kay Ash.

13. Communicate effectively.

Warren Buffett has said, “You’ve got to be able to communicate in life and it’s enormously important. Schools, to some extent, under emphasize that. If you can’t communicate and talk to other people and get across your ideas, you’re giving up your potential.”

14. Be 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.

15. Encourage 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).”

16. Boost 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.”

Related: 4 Culture-Building Lessons From Sam Walton's Legal Pad

17. Be transparent.

“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.

18. Stop 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.

Related: How Personal Identity and Being Inclusive Can Make or Break Your Career

“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 behavioral tendencies. Listening should be a full-time job when you consider the uncertainty embedded in the workplace and the on-going changes taking place.”

19. Write ‘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.

20. They don’t tolerate poor performance.

“Anyone running an organization 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.”

21. They 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.”

Related: Multimedia Maven Michael Hyatt Explains His Success Over Several Platforms

Hyatt adds, “Victims are passive. They are acted upon. Leaders are active. They take initiative to influence the outcome.”

22. They 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.”

23. Have 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.”

Related: 6 Reasons Why Steve Jobs Was Truly One of a Kind

24. Celebrate accomplishments.

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.

25. They 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.”

Related: 7 Ways To Add Massive Value To Your Business

The best leaders encourage their employees to read, attend workshops, and conferences so that they “can get ahead in every aspect of” their lives.