Lessons I’ve Learned As An Entrepreneur

As I’m thinking about the qualities that define a good leader, there are six characteristics that immediately come to mind. Now, you may be thinking different situations call for different attributes, and on some levels that’s true, but the qualities I’m talking about are shared by every great leader I’ve ever known or admired. And, as a lifelong entrepreneur, I’ve learned many lessons that you can tap into to be a better leader as well.

Self-awareness is the foundation of effective leadership

The first, and possibly the most important quality is self-awareness – the foundation of effective leadership in business as well as life. This isn’t just my experience, either. There is a lot of data out there that supports this notion.

To me, self-awareness means you have an in tune understanding of how your behavior and words impact those around you. As a poet would say, know thyself. Good leaders choose to identify both their strengths and weaknesses.  

Get introspective and learn to understand and be comfortable with what you’re good at as well as what you’re not. Embrace what you’re good at, why you’re good at it, and focus on doubling down on your strengths. After all, you were created this way, so you may as well learn to appreciate it and use it to your advantage. 

This, I can’t emphasize enough. Look at how you impact the folks around you. Real self-awareness is not just knowing yourself but also perceiving how the way you do life impacts others around you. You can’t separate your work life from your personal life; this concept of compartmentalizing things is just BS; your tribe looks to you for leadership, from home and business alike.

As a matter of fact, self-awareness, drives the authenticity of all the other great leadership qualities. You’ll see what I mean as you keep reading.

The most powerful leaders are visionaries

One thing the world’s most powerful leaders have in common, is that they’re all visionaries. They each have a really, really big dream and/or vision – and they’ve managed to get people attracted to that big vision.

As Jim Collins says in Good to Great, you need a big, audacious, hairy goal. What is that big vision/goal? It doesn’t have to be as far reaching as Elon Musk going to colonize Mars, but we can always aim and reach for more.

I believe curiosity plays an important role here too. The only way to aim higher is to be constantly seeking knowledge. The most influential leaders are always learning, always gaining new ground and trying to optimize. 

Being a risk taker goes along with being a visionary as well. Having a big dream is great, and ideas are awesome, but it all comes to nothing without action. The willingness to execute – to say, “This is the big idea, let’s put it in motion and go” and then follow through is everything.

Good leaders take (sometimes even make) every opportunity to elevate as we pursue our dreams and reach for something higher. An ideal leader makes everyone think and aspire to be better. And it all starts with that big dream and vision.

Good leaders are great listeners

Good leaders understand that the best way to connect with people is by being a great listener. It can be so, so hard, but listening is the key. We all are taught when we’re forced to take speech in school on how to speak, and I’ve said it before myself: we all have one mouth and two ears. But most of us don’t function consistently in that reality of listening more than we speak, myself included.

Being a genuine listener, especially in this digital age, means putting the device down, cell phone, laptop, etc. and just making eye contact. Whether it’s through a zoom meeting, or it’s face-to-face, be committed to the conversation.

You know, there are many people who’re only half listening in a conversation because they’re too focused on preparing their reply. The goal of communication is to listen and seek to understand; to ask more questions; to be engaged; to be intrigued; to be curious.

As I mentioned earlier, good leaders are inquisitive. They want to learn more about a subject and that’s just more motivation to be a great listener.

Good leaders have strength of character

Another quality I’ve observed in every strong leader I know is an incredible strength of character. I think of a true, first class, up-and-coming trailblazer; always climbing that Mount Everest. I believe this drive and strength of character is a key strand of the DNA for every good leader.

Inspiration and motivation are assets not to be dismissed. But the real value of character is the way it influences action, and your actions always, always speak louder than words. Treat people with grace and respect. Do what you say you’re going to do. Be there when you promised you would be. Remain true to your word. Because authentic, pure, deep-rooted excellence in character is very effective and attractional.

A high Emotional Quotient is inherent in the best leaders

This leads me to the fifth defining quality of a good leader. A high EQ (Emotional Quotient). This is an element of self-awareness that deserves its own heading because it’s the difference between positional power and a leader people are loyal to and want to follow.

If you’re tyrannical, just barking orders, always pushing, condescending, impatient, rude, always asking for everything but giving nothing – no support, or affirmation – that’s just positional power. On the other hand, authority coming from a position of service, respect and honor, that type of leadership gains trust and respect.

Be secure in not knowing everything. Be willing to admit it when you’re wrong. Apologize with sincerity when it’s warranted. Own it and your people will love you for it. Yes, it’s relationship based and can take some time, but it’s so worth it. Just remain mindful, because while it may take years to build, it can be lost in mere seconds.

Empathy elevates the EQ

One last quality I see in all the most effective leaders, and one that can really elevate a leader’s EQ is empathy. Simply put, empathy is putting yourself in someone else’s shoes; feeling what they feel; relating to them; caring.

People tend to intermix sympathy and empathy. Sympathy is more like looking in from the outside and thinking: “Oh, that sounds like it was really tough.” Whereas, empathy is going deep with someone and sharing the experience on a more kindred level. This doesn’t mean you necessarily agree with everything either. Just recognize that to get empathy you’ve got to get naked emotionally (let your guard down), which gives you true understanding and a genuine connection. Imagine that, right?

Empathy begets empathy just like vulnerability begets vulnerability and people can sniff it out. If it’s not genuine just know your people will catch it right away and that it’s a huge turnoff.

Good leaders get results

So, as you continue to fine tune your leadership qualities to take your game to the next level, remember that good leaders get results. Be intentional, unselfish and try to genuinely help others by adding value.

The best leaders get results from other people. Why? Because they make those around them – here’s the key – better. They’re more fulfilled. They’re more encouraged. They’re more in tune. They have more technical expertise. They’re more supported. They’re more loved, yep, I said it; and they’re more challenged.

Whether it’s giving energy, information, presenting fresh challenges or providing a shoulder to cry on, the greatest leaders get results because they make others around them better. And we can all be better.