During my time in stand-up comedy I discovered if I took the right approach, I could learn from others in a way that would help me avoid the figurative manholes into which they had fallen. This practice helped me reduce my learning curve dramatically.
When you learn that approximately 95 percent of entrepreneurs fail in their first five years (in startup businesses), you can see the importance of increasing those odds.
The great success philosopher Jim Rohn said "success leaves clues." Napoleon Hill, author of the landmark Think and Grow Rich, spent 25 years interviewing thought leaders to determine the common traits they shared. The belief in Rohn’s wisdom, what I discovered from Napoleon Hill’s work and my time in stand-up comedy resulted in my desire to begin interviewing thought leaders.
My hope was to discover the timeless traits modern leaders shared and use them in my own life. I also wanted to share my findings with others so they could reduce their learning curve and increase their potential for personal and professional success.
I have personally interviewed more than 4,000 thought leaders. The results of these interviews have taught me a great deal about leaders and the timeless traits they share.
Here are the three most common.
1. They go all-in.
At a time when it’s not uncommon to witness someone completely distracted by his or her telephone, it’s interesting to discover each thought leader I meet with has found a way to operate like he or she doesn't own a phone. I have been hard pressed to catch them distracted during our interactions.
When I was sharing this with Canadian motivational speaker Mike Lipkin, he said, “the stars, the high achievers, they have an uncanny ability to be all-in, in whatever they are doing.”
Going all-in doesn’t mean ignoring your phone or a distraction forever. It simply means when you’re with a person, be all-in with them. When you’re on your phone, go all-in with it. Leaders understand that single-tasking is still sexy.
2. They dedicate themselves to life-long learning.
The late Zig Ziglar said, “You can finish school and even make it easy -- but you never finish your education and it's seldom easy.” Perhaps that's why, when we interviewed him before his death, he said that at 84, he was still reading daily.
Jack Canfield, author of The Success Principles, told me he still goes to Tony Robbins seminars and takes pages of notes.
Throughout our interviews we discovered that most thought leaders have a learning plan in place. In fact, it was rare to find a thought leader who wasn't dedicated to life-long learning.
Even the thought leaders of yesterday clearly believed in the importance of self-education. Although many of these past leaders did not finish school, most of them had personal libraries. The personal library of Ralph Waldo Emmerson rivaled many public libraries of his time.
You no longer have to be a voracious reader to be a life-long learner. It’s now true that “learners are leaders.” Today we have many other learning options that didn’t exist in the past. Whether it’s listening to podcasts, watching TED talks or listening to audio books, the learning options today are almost endless.
3. They say no more often.
Most entrepreneurs are optimistic and passionate people. It's not uncommon to discover an entrepreneur who is hanging on by a thread, but promising that tomorrow will be the day the company buys Microsoft. The key difference I’ve noticed though is thought-leading entrepreneurs say no more often.
Top thought leaders find a way to say no to almost everything that doesn’t move the needle in the right direction. That way they can say yes to the things that will positively move the needle.
Entrepreneurs can learn from those leadership traits. If we work hard enough and learn from the wisdom of thought leaders, maybe tomorrow will be the day that our company buys Microsoft. Even if it isn't, perhaps it will be the day we use cash to buy supper and leave the credit cards in the freezer.