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7 Lessons in Leadership and Entrepreneurship

In more than a decade covering business as a journalist, I’ve interviewed dozens of executives, entrepreneurs, small-business owners, philanthropists and community leaders. I’d like to think the wisdom I’ve gleaned from probing their career paths and personal histories functions as a type of DIY business degree based on the practical advice of those who’ve built something of value in the marketplace. I keep a notebook where I often write down these nuggets of insight—quotes and ideations about success and leadership.

As the host of Trending Today, my notebook is filling up fast with expert business insight from the innovators, luminaries, disruptors, and leaders we feature on the show. I look forward to sharing with you, new entrepreneurial insights in each episode. Meanwhile, I’m opening up my notebook to reveal my top seven takeaways for success from all the brilliant business minds I’ve had the privilege of interviewing.

Venture Outside Your Comfort Zone: The overarching advice I hear in my interviews with successful people is to push beyond your comfort zone. An executive with a leadership consulting firm once said of her career path: “If I had stayed in the status quo, I would’ve grown bored with my job. Instead, I said yes to new challenges even if was hard work or I had no clue what I was doing. This led me to discover a new career that will carry me into retirement.” Her words resonated with me because I often hear variations of that mantra, step outside of your comfort zone to achieve greatness, whether it’s taking on a new job with a steep learning curve, accepting a transfer to another city or country or going back to school to learn new skills. “What has made me successful is not being shy about taking on new challenges,” says the facilities director of a popular fast-casual restaurant chain, I once interviewed. “If it’s an area I’m not familiar with, I will ask for coaching to get the job done. By asking for help, you open up more opportunities.”

Lead by Listening & Serving: The most effective leaders, I’ve found are those who lead by listening and serving no matter the size of the company, whether they are in charge of a team of two or two thousand. Those in managerial positions who see themselves as facilitators rather than dictators often achieve better results. In one of my interviews, the executive of a global luxury watch company succinctly describes this approach: “It’s about listening, course-correcting, keeping an open mind and challenging yourself and your team to make things better.” In another interview, the facilities director for a popular fast-casual chain of restaurants describes his management style as “servant leadership” which he defines as ensuring the needs of others are met first. He says it’s about removing barriers so that others can do their jobs effectively.

Empower Through Collaboration A Crestron executive in charge of developing offices globally once told me that his goal was to create a collaborative, welcoming workplace for employees, where they are excited to come to work every day. We can all agree that there is no such thing as a workplace utopia; however, a corporate culture that empowers employees to share ideas and opinions goes a long way in employee retention.

Be a Mentor: Those who’ve advanced in their careers to executive level posts have acquired knowledge and wisdom from their many mistakes and successes. Many executives I interviewed over the years believe they have a duty to share that knowledge. The general counsel of a large money wiring company shared with me how he works with nonprofits in his spare time because he believes “lawyers have skills, education, and resources to help others.” He feels it’s his duty to share his education and experience.

Do Good Things A serial entrepreneur I once interviewed who launched a wildly successful ad agency and later became the developer of a Texas beach community says money is not his primary motivator. He is driven by a duty to make a positive impact in society. I’ve also interviewed many small-business owners where passion trumps profit. Blair Sligar, a custom furniture maker and owner of a small shop, Hog Eat Hog, whose nonsensical name fits his quirky brand, sees his company as creating a value system that’s good for the environment. Sligar uses reclaimed wood to craft one-of-a-kind pieces that foster his values. “If you are going to create something it shouldn’t be disposable, you should do it well.

Be An Outlier Industrial designer Massimo Buster Minale owner of Buster + Punch has built a global interiors brand and custom motorbike company with an outlier attitude. His brand bucks convention appealing to those who he says “want to live with conviction.” Minale had the courage to be an outlier by creating designs that defy genres and labels. He doesn’t do trends which gives his creations a unique design voice and point of view. It takes courage to be an outlier because you are gambling on an idea, a product, or service that isn’t market tested.

I too was an outlier entrepreneur in the early 2000’s, as the first to launch a company that promoted exercise for babies. When my company, Wee Exercise, debuted with its video exercise series for infants, it received heavy press coverage. Unfortunately, the initial media hype created a demand that my company was not sufficiently capitalized to meet.

My company failed but the idea was a success. It’s always hard to be first to the market but if you have the courage and stamina to be an outlier or disruptor, your forward-thinking business can influence consumer lifestyles and shape the marketplace.

Be Empathetic: Empathy goes a long way in building a brand, a company, and a workforce. At a woman’s leadership conference, I interviewed Danya Shea, CEO and founder of FervorWorks and co-author of the book, The Empathy Framework that outlines how to foster empathy in a corporate culture that “unlocks the heart of your customer and wins more market share.” Shea believes it’s time to re-humanize business and adopt this new marketing model. Empathy is an essential quality to success cited frequently by business owners and executives. The design director of a major hotel chain once stated in an interview: “You can only be successful if you remain authentic and empathetic which allows you to connect with people.” Her words of wisdom are echoed by a human resources executive I spoke with who acknowledges, “Employees aren’t there to churn and burn. They have multidimensional lives so the challenge is to create environments where they can flourish.

As a business journalist and entrepreneur, I have much admiration and respect for the disruptors, the outliers, and the visionaries who have the courage, conviction, and stamina to change the world in some large or small way. I can’t wait to bring you more stories of innovation and inspiration on Trending Today.

Article by Trending Today Host Karen LeBlanc

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