In Leadership

Exceptional business leaders exhibit a common set of traits. The article below shares how leaders can use these traits and initiatives to become recognized in their fields. CK

Article written by Martin Zwilling originally appeared in Inc.com on June 17, 2021. 

By definition, all entrepreneurs are leaders, by taking the initiative to start a new company. Yet I have learned over the years as a startup adviser that all business leaders are not the same.

Some are great product leaders and innovative technologists, others are leaders in creating new business models, and a few can assemble great teams, but only the rare exception can do all three.

Most investors will readily admit that they invest in entrepreneur leadership, more so than innovative ideas, but they often find it difficult to separate aspiring leaders from those who are clearly extraordinary. I often hear a list of high-level attributes, including determination, vision, initiative, and integrity, but these are hard to translate into specific actions.

Based on my own years of experience helping new businesses grow, I’d like to offer my own summary of some key lower-level action items, which I believe every business professional and entrepreneur can learn and practice to their advantage.

1. Show ambition and a sense of urgency in every role.

This means not only demonstrating that you can do whatever is required, but are also in a hurry to show that you are willing to change the underlying system and yourself to get better results than anyone else. That does require a singular focus, but also an awareness of the big picture.

2. Visibly accept full responsibility and accountability.

Extraordinary leaders never look for excuses or rationalizations when problems and challenges arise, as they will in every job or new business. As you do this, you will move from critic to cheerleader, from what is wrong to what is going right, and people will line up to help you tackle tough challenges.

For example, a couple of years ago, Starbucks CEO Kevin R. Johnson accepted full company accountability on Twitter for a racial profiling incident at a Starbucks in Philadelphia. He could have claimed that a fired employee was at fault, but instead he closed 8,000 of his stores for a day to provide additional employee racial-bias training.

3. Create innovative change from existing resources.

You generally don’t fix things by throwing them away and starting over. The most effective leaders marshal existing resources and motivate people to create innovative yet competitive solutions. They understand the need to work within existing constraints, and think outside the box.

4. Build community with team members and advisers.

A community requires two-way communication and respect — including advisers, partners, and customers. The best leaders don’t just give orders — you work with people you depend on to build trust, give and accept coaching, and motivate by being a role model for the approach you espouse.

Sir Richard Branson, for example, often makes a point of personally rewarding outstanding leaders by taking them aside and telling them that they are now in charge of one of his new companies. His Virgin Group today consists of over 400 companies.

5. Be transparent in communicating your values and needs.

Don’t try to hide your real direction or aspirations. True leaders don’t let their ego or competitive nature create a facade. They focus totally on collaboration, highlighting the strengths of others, and celebrating joint successes. People will follow you if they know what you really want.

6. Continually enhance your leadership through feedback.

Just as your business needs feedback from customers, you need regular feedback from those around you on how to do better. That means accepting coaching and seeking mentoring, as well as giving it. Strive to evolve from guru to guide, coaching others to find their own answers.

7. Espouse a higher purpose than profit or recognition.

An acclaimed sense of purpose, such as feeding the disadvantaged, or helping the environment, creates an extra degree of engagement for team members and customers, and tags you as an extraordinary leader. The result is better team productivity, and greater loyalty from your customers.

In my experience, all businesses, especially startups, thrive on leadership, and die without it. No matter what your current role, you can use the themes and strategies outlined here to build and enhance your leadership image and business results.

For you the payback is the satisfaction of greater impact, as well as new career opportunities. The time to get started is now.

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