Leadership is not in your DNA. There is no genetic code for becoming a chief executive or a business owner. We’re all born with a clean slate, more or less. What happens next – your childhood, your upbringing, your education, your experience, your behavior, the choices you make – determines what you become. And what you make of yourself.
It might surprise you to know that growing up with nothing does not diminish your chances of accomplishing great things in your life. On the contrary, growing up with adversity, in a competitive environment, can have a positive impact on your career. It all depends on how you use that experience.
So how about we throw out all the conventional wisdom and popular myths about where leaders and entrepreneurs come from and focus on what really matters: the things you have control over today that can really make a difference in what you achieve going forward.
Related: Never Take Your Eye Off the Ball
While there is no common blueprint for success, there are common themes I see again and again in those who do exceptionally well. Here are seven things that, in my experience, every great entrepreneur knows. Most importantly, they’re all within your reach.
There is no four-hour – or 40-hour – workweek. You get out of life what you put in. There are no shortcuts to success. There’s no fad, no silver bullet, no miracle pill that will help you achieve great things without working your tail off. Period.
How to focus. The first rule of a startup is to focus. First you focus on coming up with a breakthrough concept. Then you focus on demonstrating it. Then you focus on delivering it and gaining customer traction. Then you focus on scaling the business. Focus is how things get done. If you can’t focus on what matters and shut out the noise, better not quit your day job.
Themselves. We spend a good part of our lives trying to find ourselves and figure out what we want to do for a living. That comes with the territory. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. You’ll know it when you find it. It’s important you do because that’s when you’ll have the opportunity to do great things.
How to influence others. Great entrepreneurs are passionate about their work. There’s always something they need to prove or achieve. It’s that sort of desperate obsession that drives them and motivates others. It’s instinctive and contagious. Leadership characteristics, emotional intelligence, extravert/introvert, employee engagement – you can save all that for later or, better still, never.
How business works. They’re not born with the knowledge, but at some point, every great entrepreneur learns how business works. Capitalization, P&L, sales, customers, relationships, negotiations – if that scares you, welcome to the big leagues. You can maybe delegate some of it, but you still have to understand it first.
BS when they hear it. There’s a line from Star Wars that really resonated with me: “The Force can have a strong influence on the weak-minded.” The same is true of BS. I’ve seen dozens of executives and entrepreneurs surround themselves with sugarcoating, self-serving yes-men and indulge in groupthink. Sooner or later, it always takes them down. Always.
There’s no reward without risk. Everyone calls herself an entrepreneur these days, but if you’re not risking anything, you’re no entrepreneur. If you want to be successful on your own, at some point, you have to cut the cord. If there were an easier or safer way, everyone would do it. I’m telling you, there isn’t.
Truth is, entrepreneurship isn’t really a “dip your toe in the water and see how it feels” sort of endeavor. If you’re not willing to go all in, you might consider getting a real job. But if you think you’ve got what it takes, these are pretty fundamental concepts you should strive to understand and embrace.
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