Many entrepreneurs forget that their success is more about helping other people than about personally becoming famous, or overcoming the odds and getting rich. A successful business has to satisfy customers with a strong team, by helping them solve problems, save money, or experience more pleasure. That means more focus on helping others achieve their goals.
How and why this is true was brought home to me a while back in the book, “It’s Not About You: A Little Story About What Matters Most in Business,” by Bob Burg and John David Mann. This is a fictional story about how an aggressive young M&A executive comes to realize that his aggressive style is actually making it harder to reach his goals.
He concludes that there are five leadership elements that include him, but are not always about him, that lead to success. These are lessons that every entrepreneur should take to heart:
1. Hold the vision. Many entrepreneurs are able to come up with a vision, but far fewer are able to hold on to it through thick and thin, and communicate it effectively and continuously to their team and their customers. Keep your eyes on where the company is going, especially when nobody else does. Watch your use of personal pronouns.
2. Build your people. Give people on your team the means, authority, and the motivation to do the job, you will be surprised at the value delivered. Make sure that the essence of your influence is pull, not push. See people for who they are, realize what they can be, and help to take them there.
3. Walk the talk and do the work. Most startups begin their life as “one-person shows” that over time evolve to teams of people, interacting with customers and vendors. By virtue of the growing workload and stress, too many entrepreneurs isolate themselves from the hands-on as the team builds. Don’t forget to be a mentor as well as a leader.
4. Stand for something. What you have to give, you offer least of all through what you say, and in greatest part through who you are. Competence and character are most important, and visible to everyone. I believe in the old saying: “If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything.”
5. Share the mantle of leadership. The best way to increase your influence is to give it away. Don’t get stuck thinking that you are the deal. Let others lead in their own area of expertise, and your power will be expanded many-fold.
As early-stage entrepreneurs, it’s natural for you to focus on you – what you’re doing, what you want, and what you need. As the business evolves, you must expand your focus beyond yourself to motivating the team and delivering value to customers. At that stage, you are still important, but it’s not about you anymore.
One mistake many entrepreneurs make, especially with online businesses, is a fundamental misunderstanding of how interesting they need to appear to others. Yes, you are a fascinating person. You know how to bootstrap a business, build it from nothing, and burn sweat-equity for long hours to push your dreams to reality. Your business brand needs to quickly supersede you.
Online businesses have removed the convenience of geographic connections. Today, remote relationships are far more important. The best way to turn someone into your devoted fan is to go out of your way to make them feel important. Put yourself first by putting others first as well. It really isn’t about how great you are but how you make others great.
What have you done for your team and your customers lately? How did you make your product manager shine in the last meeting? Being an entrepreneurial success is not about grabbing information and power, it’s about helping others succeed.
CEO & Founder of Startup Professionals, Inc.; Advisory Board Member for multiple startups; ATIF Angels Selection Committee; Entrepreneur in Residence at ASU and Thunderbird School of Global Management.