When it comes to running a business, you may find yourself learning about skills you never thought you would need. One of those skills is leadership.
The reality is that running a business de facto puts you in a leadership position, even if right now your only employee is you. This can be a scary thing for some people, but it can also be incredibly rewarding not just for your business, but also for you personally.
Here are 25 lessons on leadership your business can’t live without, brought to you by the conversations I have with business owners all the time.
1. Patience is a virtue.
If there’s one lesson on leadership that all business owners must learn its that patience is a virtue. Let’s face it, lots of business owners (myself included) are Type-A control freaks who want stuff done yesterday. The reality is business owners must learn to let go of the control and surrender just as often as they need to keep working.
2. Resilience is key.
Just like business owners need to surrender, they also need to have an insane amount of resilience. Ask any successful business owner and they will tell you that things go wrong all the time – especially in the beginning. It’s your job to keep going anyway.
3. Don’t take the word “no” personally.
Here’s an excellent lesson on leadership all business owners should heed: don’t take the no’s so damn personally. You will get rejected. You will have doors slammed in your face. In the beginning, this will happen more often than not. The key is to not take it personally.
4. Know when to quit.
Knowing when to quit on a project is just as important as knowing when to keep going. Sometimes we need to pull the plug on projects, and it’s our job as leaders to know when it’s time to do so.
5. Take calculated risks.
Starting a business and being a leader requires taking on risk. The most obvious of these risks is a financial risk.
Let’s be real here, the money to invest isn’t always there. Sometimes, we hope an idea will make us cash but we don’t really know. And finally, we act anyway even if we’re not sure where the money is going to come from.
The key is to take calculated risks. Do your research, consider the obstacles and be ready to take ownership if it doesn’t work out.
6. Take ownership when you screw up.
Out of all the lessons on leadership for your business, this is one of the most important. Leaders must be able to take ownership when they screw up. They must even take ownership when their employees screw up.
Doing the opposite could have negative effects. Take the former CEO of Lululemon. When there was a quality control issue with some leggings, he made a terrible comment about how some women aren’t the right body type for his company’s activewear. It took a while for their sales to rebound after that one.
7. Always work on yourself as a person.
There’s a reason why personal development and business development seem to go hand in hand – it’s because the health of a business owner (both mentally and physically) is often reflected in the business.
8. Become hyper self-aware of emotions, thoughts, and actions.
The more self-aware you are the better you’ll be able to make decisions for your business. Furthermore, it will help you get out of your own way.
For example, I recently noticed that I was becoming a little controlling in my business and not allowing my assistant to do the things I pay her to do. I’m self-aware enough to catch myself in the act and question why I’m behaving a certain way.
What I realized was I was having an issue I had no control over in my personal life, so I was compensating by controlling in my business. As soon as I realized this I apologized to my assistant and let her do her job.
There’s data to back this up, too. A study conducted by Green Peak Partners and Cornell found that self-awareness should be a top criterion for successful leadership. In fact, they found that self-awareness was the highest indicator of overall success.
9. Learn to delegate.
Good leaders know that they can’t do everything themselves. As a result, they learn to bring people onto their team and delegate.
You need to spend your time on what Gay Hendricks calls the “Zone of Genius” in order to move your vision forward. This is the area where you’re not just merely capable, but you exceed far beyond what most people can.
For example, I’m capable of doing basic web design, but I shouldn’t be wasting my time doing it. Instead, I should stick to my zone of genius which is writing and marketing. This is where I excel and it’s also where I lose track of time because I love it so much.
By delegating to others, business owners are able to spend more time in their zone of genius which allows them to not just move the company forward but actually enjoy it.
10. Learn how to say no.
As a leader, you’re probably going to be asked to take on new projects or participate in events. While in the beginning, it makes sense to take every opportunity that comes your way, eventually it becomes detrimental to your progress. That’s why learning how to say no is always one of the lessons on leadership business owners must learn.
Business owners must focus on what is essential to the business, and sometimes that requires saying no a lot. For an awesome book on how leaders can practice saying no, make sure to check out “Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less” by Greg McKeown.
11. Have faith in something greater than yourself.
In my time interviewing business owners for my podcast, I’ve begun noticing a common theme. Many of them attribute their leadership success to something greater than themselves. Whether it’s a cause, a vision, or some form of spirituality, they all have something to tap into.
12. Learn to trust yourself.
Learning to trust yourself is another one of the major lessons on leadership that your business cannot live without. Eventually, you’re going to have to trust yourself to make decisions both big and small. It’s your job.
13. Learn to listen to other people.
Just like business owners know they can’t do everything themselves, they also know that they don’t actually know everything. If you really want to succeed, you’re going to have to learn how to listen to other people.
14. Don’t make big decisions quickly.
In the beginning of my business, I had a nasty habit of making decisions quickly. As my business grows, and as I become more mature, I’ve realized this really isn’t smart. Big decisions deserve careful consideration (but don’t take too long either!)
15. Don’t run a business for the sake of running a business.
Most business owners have some sort of a cause or a mission that drives them. Very rarely do they run a business for the sake of running a business.
16. Big breaks are few and far between.
Successful business owners know that overnight success takes years, if not decades. While some people catch big breaks, they are truly few and far between. The key is to show up and do the work every single day, even if it doesn’t look like you’re making any headway.
17. Always stay open to learning something new.
Successful business owners and leaders are constantly learning new skills and ways to improve their businesses. In many cases, it’s an insatiable appetite. In other cases, it’s simply making sure that you and your business are always improving.
18. Think outside of the box.
Successful leaders know that sometimes they need to get out of the box they’ve created in order to solve a problem. This may look like asking others for help, getting out of the office, taking a break or trying something new.
19. Always pay it forward.
Part of what makes a successful leader is the ability to pay it forward through something like mentorship. Leaders want to know that they’ve helped someone else improve their lives and businesses as well.
20. Be transparent.
Just like business owners need to take ownership of their mistakes, they also need to be transparent with their team and customers. It shows that people can trust you.
21. Treat the people who work for you as equals.
The Harvard Business Review reported on a study that found that positive teams are more productive in the workplace. The study, which was conducted by the University of Michigan, found that positivity in the workplace fosters all of the following:
- Caring and maintaining responsibility for colleagues.
- Providing support for one another.
- Avoiding blame and practicing forgiving mistakes.
- Treating each other with respect.
One of the ways in which to foster this positivity is to treat the people who work for you as equals. This positivity comes from the top down, so make sure to foster these things in yourself and teach your team to follow suit.
22. Be idealistic and pragmatic at the same time.
In order to succeed in business and solve a problem you need to be a little idealistic. However, in order to execute you need to be pragmatic. Successful business owners have learned how to balance the two.
23. Walk your talk.
Do you want your team to take care of themselves physically? Then you’d better do the same. Whether you know it or not, your position of leadership makes you a role model.
24. Always stay in communication with your customers.
Successful business owners go out of their way to speak with customers to see what’s going on and how they can improve. They know that at the end of the day, their business is there to help the customer, not themselves.
25. Don’t be afraid of change.
Successful business owners know that what got them here may not get them there. Times change, and while it’s perhaps one of the hardest lessons on leadership you must learn, you must accept that your business needs to change along with the times.
You may have noticed a common theme throughout this article: Leaders know how to balance opposing things. They know how to trust themselves, but not too much so as they still listen to others. They know when to keep going, and they know when to give up.
While striking this balance doesn’t happen overnight, it is something business owners can begin practicing from the get-go.
What other lessons on leadership have you learned as a business owner? Share in the comments below.