5 Leadership Hacks Every Entrepreneur Must Know
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With an ever increasing number of people making the transition from corporate to startups and small businesses every year, entrepreneurship is a word that is no longer the content of business textbooks.
With India transforming into a startup hub, the number of entrepreneurial ventures that have sprouted in the past five years is encouraging. But, at the same time, not all of them sprout wings and take off. The cause for failure or success of an entrepreneurial venture is elusive since there are always a number of factors.
All said ‘entrepreneurship’ is no piece of cake. Having passion might be a good start, but an entrepreneur is exposed to greater amounts of uncertainty and hurdles than larger organizations with financial and human resources buffer. However, there are certain distinct traits that distinguish world-class entrepreneurs from the crowd. These traits can be imbibed and need not necessarily be inherent. Think of them as leadership principles that can take an entrepreneur places in the long run.
However, in a world that is fast-moving and attracted to immediate results, instant solutions, fancy ‘jugaads’ and quick fixes, how valuable are these principles anyway? For the entrepreneur, their guiding principles are everything and the decision to follow or not follow them can make all the difference. If so, then what are these principles? Let me share the 5 tested and proven ones.
An Idea is Only Worth its Translation
You’re the entrepreneur/ founder and therefore the idea is yours. While this is true it is important not to get carried away and assume that success also belongs to you alone. Even great entrepreneurs like Mark Zuckerberg realize and credit Facebook’s success to everyone at Facebook.
It’s important to understand that ideas can come in torrents. At over 7.6 billion people walking the surface of the planet, ideas are in abundance. Then why is it that only a handful of ideas ever make it big? And that is where translation comes in. An idea becomes successful only when it has been translated into reality.
Entrepreneurship therefore is a social machine or ‘team-effort’ in cliché term. The success of your venture (idea) is only possible with the help of your team who translates it into reality. Think of entrepreneurship as a social greenhouse. An extraordinary person(s) may have generated the idea, but it is the interaction among the ordinary folks that give the idea it’s translation.
If You’re Not Obsessed, You’re Not Ready
Does your idea drive you? To the point of obsession? Does the entrepreneur in you set high expectations for yourself and your team? Are your focused on perfection even to the tiniest of details? Do you go back to the drawing board and start over? Do you push beyond the limits and take risks instead of playing safe?
There is a reason why the brands Apple, Amazon, and Tesla have singular associations in their respective market segments. It is because Steve Jobs, Jeff Bezos, and Elon Musk were obsessed with what they did. There is an unfaltering truth that these entrepreneurs realized and mediated on day and night - “if you strive for excellence instead of settling for mediocrity, then you will set yourself apart.”
You could settle for mediocrity and still get your venture up and running, the problem is, you will have a hundred similar competitors by your side. If all you want to do is be a number in the crowd it doesn’t take much, but if you want to get to the top of the industry then you have to walk the extra mile.
I remember a piece of advice given to me as a student. If you strive for 100 you will probably end up with 90 marks in your exam. If you strive for 90, you could get 80 and so on. So if you just want to pass - there is every possibility that you might not. Given the depth of the statement, it made sense to strive for 100, because if it worked you get a 100 in your exams, if not then you still end up with a 90!
Let’s put it this way ‘complacency’ should be a no-no in your entrepreneurship dictionary.
Transform Yourself and Your Business
Do something important. When you start out with your venture, it is vital that you are passionate about what you are doing. But it is equally important that you contribute something essential to the industry you are in.
And just as important is to transform yourself into a visionary, a thought leader and an influencer. When people come to work for you, they must be able to look up to an ideal, a role model they would want to emulate. Leaders who lack vision cannot inspire teams, motivate individuals or create value additions. The leading internal reason why companies fail is lack of vision from the leadership person/ team.
Transforming the industry, however, might seem a herculean task. But it is not impossible. I am reminded of Muhammad Ali’s words “Impossible is just a big word thrown around by small men who find it easier to live in the world they’ve been given than to explore the power they have to change it.” If this is true, then you should feel empowered to be that change.
Strive to be a leader in your space and inspire your team to churn out innovation as part of their day-to-day responsibilities. This way you not only create a niche for your brand but also create future leaders and innovators. There’s no better way of ‘giving back’.
The Art of Ignorance
Your passion and zealous drive are responsible for you being an entrepreneur. But do not underestimate what negative comments and setbacks can do to your vision. Being an entrepreneur does not make you resilient to scepticism, failures, and naysayers.
When presented with such challenges, the entrepreneur in you must be able to - 1. Ignore the unproductive/ damaging feedback
2. Filter out the demotivating energies around
3. Focus on the vision and the belief you started out with
4. Blindly believe in the mission you started
The result of following these pointers is that Steve Jobs created a product for which people are ready to pay a small fortune to own. Amazon was able to create a model where shopping online is more convenient than at a physical store, and Tesla proved that mobility on four wheels powered by batteries is more attractive than a tank of flammable hydrocarbon liquid. Ignorance in the right kind of situations can indeed be bliss!
Balance Your Customers and Your Employees
Your customers are one of your greatest assets. Think of them as your brand’s clothing. While your employees are your brand’s backbone. You cannot afford to keep either of them unhappy.
Some brands focus extensively on customer delight and while that may reap benefits in the short-run it is not a sustainable model. If you do not maintain your brand’s engine (employees) in good running condition, your brand may not make it far.
There’s a saying that many leaders and CEOs have embraced - “Take care of your Employees and they will take care of your business.”
Your employees aren’t merely computer operators or telephone receptionists, they are individuals with dreams and aspirations, perhaps having families and financial commitments. To take care of your employees means to address not just the in-office hours of their lives but the remaining as well. You may not always get things right or be able to fulfil every requirement, but the fact that you take an interest in their well-being will motivate them to work harder and respect their workplace.
It’s important to get the right kind of people on your bus, but it’s just as important to get the wrong people off. This might seem harder than getting the right people onboard. But as an entrepreneur/ leader, this is something you have to consider seriously. Failure on your part to realize and correct the situation might cause more damage to the rest of your team than you would know. There are a lot of ways you can go about this, but as the leader of your business, you know the dynamics better than anyone else and therefore are better suited to take the most favourable course of action.
Go For It
So now that you know what makes entrepreneurs great leaders, you should go face the challenge head on. If you are thinking about being an entrepreneur then that is a sign. Not many people can think out of their comfort box. It is going to test your limits, but if you believe YOU CAN then there is every chance that YOU CAN!
Remember that it’s all about your network. The kind of people you associate with determines the quality of your life, both professional and personal. Find a mentor as you start out in your venture. Connect and associate with people passionate about similar things as well as leaders and influencers in the industry. You don’t grow by associating with lower goals, you need to associate with higher goals to reach there.
This article was first published in the July 2018 issue of Entrepreneur Magazine. To subscribe, click here