6 Secrets of Business Leaders Who Built Hugely Successful Companies

Some people are born with the skills required to build a business from a good idea. The rest of us can learn from them.

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By Firas Kittaneh • May 4, 2015

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

The most successful entrepreneurs possess strong leadership skills, an uncanny ability to generate game-changing ideas and a knack for hiring exceptional talent. They are simultaneously calculated, clever, collaborative, composed, confident, and creative. These traits give them the character they need to overcome a number of challenging business obstacles but they also utilize these timeless business-building methods to achieve long-term company goals.

1. Communicate from the inside out.

Simon Sinek, author and CEO of the Sinek Group, believes the most awe-inspiring companies begin with a great leader who regularly asks herself "Why?"

Why are you in business? Why should customers care? Popular brands emanate a strong, purposeful mission statement to their customers. Often, people can live without your product or service, but they consistently do business with you because they support what you stand for, including your vision.

Apple's latest launch of products illustrates this. Visit Apple.com to learn more about the new MacBook and get caught up in how the company describes its latest offering. "With the new MacBook, we set out to do the impossible: engineer a full-size experience into the lightest and most compact Mac notebook ever."

Apple engages you with a feeling they are conquering the impossible for the user's ultimate benefit. The brand prioritizes users' needs to create beautiful, easy-to-use products. To build a successful business, leaders need to fully understand why they are doing what they do and communicate that to their employees and customers. No gimmicks. No fluff.

Related: Quiz: Do You Have What It Takes to Be an Entrepreneur?

2. Shoot the dogs early.

In 1973, Barbara Corcoran started The Corcoran Group with a $1,000 loan from her boyfriend. By 2001, she successfully scaled and sold the company she founded for $66 million. As a leader, she knew her success depended on the overall happiness and productivity of her team members. To ensure her employees had the best working environment, Corcoran routinely weeded out the complainers and the laggards who negatively impacted everyone else's performance.

Each year Corcoran cleaned house and let the bottom 25 percent of her sales staff go. She calls this "shooting the dogs early." By releasing the poorest performers and those who groan and grumble, she maintained high company morale and ensured she retained the best staff possible.

3. Walk it out.

When building a business, entrepreneurs often get stuck. Completing a simple task, conceiving new ideas or resolving a small problem can feel tantamount to climbing Mount Everest. To overcome an obstacle, you might just want to take a walk.

According to the New York Times, studies have shown that exercise helps you perform better in areas like decision making, organizing your thoughts and thinking creatively. In the workplace, this can translate in a few ways, the simplest of which is taking a quick walk around the office. Encourage your employees to get up and stretch their legs if they find themselves helplessly stuck on a problem.

You can also encourage walking meetings in your office. The Guardian suggests taking four to six people on a walking meeting to get ideas flowing. Set a time limit of 30 minutes to keep from over-exerting everyone, and offer to buy coffee the first few times you go out. Keep track of all the ideas you come up with on your smartphones.

Related: 4 Easy Steps to Never Sitting Through Another Pointless Meeting

4. Be transparent.

As more companies open up about their processes and methods, customers are becoming savvier and hungrier for transparency. Fortunately, transparency does not require you to fork over trade secrets but it does mean being honest about how you conduct business. Your customers want to feel they can trust you. Openness and information sharing helps to build that trust.

Clothing company Everlane takes transparency to the next level. While many retailers disclose where their materials are sourced and what kind of factories they use to make their products, Everlane goes a step further and tells shoppers what the company paid for their materials. Every item has a "Transparent Pricing" section that explains how much the materials, labor, duties, transportation, real cost, and markup is for that particular item, comparing it also against how it would be priced at a traditional retailer. By sharing the economics of each garment, Everlane fosters client loyalty, brand trust and the intimacy companies need with customers to prosper.

5. Encourage your employees to express their creativity.

Profitable and sustainable enterprises thrive on original thinking while copycat businesses shutter their doors as soon as the idea they have stolen loses its relevance. Since the successful conception and development of viable business ideas takes time and requires a flexible corporate structure, try setting aside a dedicated amount of resources to allow your employees to be creative on their own terms.

Google does this by giving its engineers 20 percent of their time to work on any project they want. This allows team members to develop products they are passionate about. Many times, that means more care and attention goes into each effort. Gmail is the most famous consequence of Google's generous 20 percent time policy.

6. Work in small groups.

According to the Small Business Chronicle, small groups allow employees to bring their individual skill sets to the table, which can complement and augment others' talents. Having multiple perspectives can help the group approach a project or issue from different angles. This enables fresh ideas to emerge and mature.

Whenever possible, encourage your coworkers to collaborate in small groups. Businesses flourish when colleagues partner to conceive, develop and implement new concepts that help the company grow. Often, team members would not be able to produce the same sort of ideas alone. The best products and services are seldom built in a vacuum.

Related: What I Learned About Great Meetings from Steve Jobs

Firas Kittaneh

Serial Entrepreneur • CEO at Amerisleep • CEO at OCLU

Firas Kittaneh is a serial entrepreneur and co-founder of amerisleep. Most recently, he launched OCLU to improve how we record our most memorable moments.

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