It doesn’t matter whether your business is a corporation, a nonprofit or a small business. Nor does it matter if you are an entrepreneur, employer, advisor or consultant, or whether you manufacture or sell products or services. Strangely enough, the keys to succeeding in business involve common principles and best practices that transcend particular personalities, brands and industries. In other words, successful people share common tenets and characteristics. But beware, as they don’t always correlate with age or experience.
KNOW YOURSELF. Aristotle understood this axiom many centuries ago when he said, “Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom.” It simply means you must know yourself and have a vision that embodies your values. But it’s important to keep your story and message simple. Are you about efficiency, quality or service? Or are you about saving lives, improving the quality of lives or making life easier?
By using introspection and embracing both your gifts and your weaknesses, you can determine where to focus your efforts for personal improvement. But also maintain an unshakable belief in yourself by knowing that with hard work and tenacity you can become more than what you are today. Or as Shakespeare said, “We know what we are but know not what we may be.”
IDENTIFY THE VOID. Back in 1908, Henry Ford was no stranger to the auto industry. However, he was appalled at the cost of early cars and that only the wealthy could afford them. He wanted to make autos available for the masses by finding ways to make them sturdier and cheaper. He identified the void when he said, “Don’t find fault, find a remedy.” His remedy was the Model-T Ford, an innovation that opened car travel to the middle class by focusing on efficient fabrication that owed its success to the moving assembly line rather than individual handcrafting.
When Alfred Chehebar developed a new technology concept for taking the hassles out of traveling, he didn’t expect to found a thriving entrepreneurial business. “My wife and I were preparing for our honeymoon and we were seeking new luggage for our trip. I found that in the market there was no luggage brand that was focusing primarily on functionality and organization, so I was immediately inclined to fill this niche.”
According to Chehebar, “To be successful in any aspect of life, you need to create opportunities … actually enhance people’s lives; and if you create something amazing, the money will follow.”
By identifying the void — an empty area ripe for solutions — Chehebar created an opportunity to meet travelers’ needs. Rather than complain about the state of affairs, he innovated to make something better. Today, he is president of Genius Pack, a privately held firm specializing in travel products that eliminate common nuisances of travel.
BE A LEADER. Make sure you lead by conviction and example. And don’t forget to communicate, articulate and listen. Colin Powell once said, “Great leaders are almost always great simplifiers who can cut through argument, debate and doubt to offer a solution everybody can understand.”
No one understands that better than Dr. Matthew Moront, director of trauma services and chief of pediatric surgery, St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children in Philadelphia. He attributes his success in later life largely to his earlier military career as a major in the Marine Corps: “As a leader, my formula is that I lead by example and from the front — something I learned in the military.” He believes he must be part of the process and the solution and be willing to work alongside the rest of his team. Additionally, he adamantly avers that a leader is responsible for everything that happens. “I can delegate authority, but the responsibility is always mine,” he says. “The saving of a child is everyone’s victory, but the life of the child is strictly my responsibility.”
For Moront, the art of communication, articulation and listening means everything. “The ability to communicate, appropriately assess the situation, convey my vision and then solicit feedback — even in trauma — shows my respect for the expertise of others. Leaders have all the resources, so they must use them effectively.”
BUILD A TEAM FOR SUCCESS. In order to lead, you must have a team. But before you recruit, develop your own skill set and technical proficiencies by becoming an expert in your chosen field. In other words, be technically and tactically proficient. Then build a team for success by choosing the right people with the right skills, empowering them and listening to feedback. Embark on a constant quest for improvement by learning from mistakes and by identifying what works and what doesn’t.
Focus on leveraging those strengths, passions and skills into an effective team that is empowered but not micromanaged. According to Moront, a common rookie mistake is to act as if you know everything. “Instead, listen to suggestions and treat your team with respect. Empower them but don’t micromanage, as that will only stifle initiative and it doesn’t work in a high-functioning team environment. If you must, criticize in private but praise in public. By accepting responsibility and not blaming others, you will inspire loyalty, trust and confidence among team members.”
Building a highly functioning team proves challenging even in the best of conditions, so you might want to keep Henry Ford’s words close to heart: “Coming together is a beginning; keeping together is progress; working together is success.”
EMBRACE AND DELIVER QUALITY. Here you focus on nitty-gritty details while embracing and delivering quality. Steve Jobs exemplified the importance of this when he said, “Be a yardstick of quality. Some people aren’t used to an environment where excellence is expected.”
For Nicholas Turpin, president/CEO, SafariScapes, his African safari business requires more than being a technically proficient charter pilot. As a personal pilot and guide, he delivers “white glove” service to clients while managing all the organizational details in between. That translates into troubleshooting, problem solving and sometimes thinking outside the box. “Fortunately, I can usually resolve issues over lunch where everyone walks away happy,” says Turpin.
On a recent customized air safari, Turpin dealt with issues involving an elderly couple who left passports and money in their room safe and discovered it only after flying two hours to the next remote way station; an American who suffered a traumatic head wound in the middle of the Kalahari; and a solo traveler who kept forgetting her personal belongings and then had the unfortunate experience of being robbed in the middle of the night. He dealt with all challenges on a 24/7 basis promptly and with compassion.
Turpin strongly believes a combination of leadership and motivation along with excellent service and a superior-quality product translates into business success when and only if there are good business practices in place. He says, “I have a relentless drive to improve, and this is incredibly important to establishing standards of excellence.”
LEARN FROM FAILURE. Most successful people know learning from failure provides the key to improving business and building for the future. For some, it’s the only way to succeed. Let failure motivate you to strive for excellence rather than limit and define who you are. As Turpin says, “Never let something get you down despite bumps in the road. Learn from the bumps and constantly strive to improve.”
To do this, put a clear process, outcome and evaluation method in place that allows for continuous refinements in your relentless pursuit of perfection. This includes the willingness to take criticism and to not make excuses when things fall short of the goal. Get what you need and have a dogged determination to learn from every mistake as a way to make things better. It’s the only way to succeed.
Most of all, build for the future by recognizing, creating and growing opportunities even when obstacles surround you. As Winston Churchill once said, “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: It is the courage to continue that counts.”
DO WHAT IS RIGHT. A successful business leader will have the moral courage to know what’s right and effect it, whether or not it comes at a personal cost. As Theodore Roosevelt so eloquently said, “Knowing what’s right doesn’t mean much unless you do what’s right.”
It goes without saying that while people who follow you don’t expect you to be perfect, nevertheless they do expect you to have the moral courage to do the right thing. This separates true leaders from opportunistic individuals. With Moront it comes down to this: “My most fundamental rule is having the moral courage to do what is right and not what is popular. A side benefit is that I gain the loyalty and trust of my team.” It’s harder than it sounds.
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