No hoodies required
When someone says successful entrepreneurial traits that could inject youth into your company, who do you think of? If you said Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, you’re in the majority, and you’re probably wondering if you should start wearing hoodies, jeans and flip flops to the office or drinking Red Bull and vodka while you work late into the night.
No, if only being a success in business was that easy! There are dozens of traits that successful entrepreneurs have, but these are seven traits that are adoptable, actionable and can be used in any company or organization to inject youth, innovation or just sheer enthusiasm into the culture.
Everyone says entrepreneurs are passionate, you’ve probably heard this so many times you’re annoyed that it is on our list, but hear us out- passion is more than getting excited about a product, it’s more than burning the midnight oil. Passion is that drive that fuels you in the morning, it’s the belief that you can make a difference in the world with what you are doing, it is the idea that the reason behind what you do is so much more than a paycheck. Passion is found in doing work that you would do even if you won the lottery.
Actions to take: if you or your organization lacks passion, ask yourself why you do what you do? Who do you serve? Why does it matter? Even an agricultural association should be able to write down that they are more than their mission statement, that they spend every day devoted to elevating best practices and connecting even the most rural areas as they protect the rights of farmers, ranchers from Tyson to the tiny organic farm. Ask why. Then, ask why again until you get legitimately excited about going to work tomorrow.
Transparency has been a hot buzz word in recent years, even used by the Obama administration as they campaigned for office. Being honest isn’t about putting your balanced check book on your blog, it is about being authentic, it is about being honest with yourself about what you are capable of and being honest with your team or your customers when you have fallen short. The secret ingredient to honesty that is always, always, always overlooked in every industry is humility. Honesty sometimes requires apologies, and it requires the ability say that you’re incapable of doing something.
Actions to take: look at your email inbox right now and select the email you’ve been dreading answering. We all have one. Instead of spinning something or putting a press release polish on a response, try some honesty. You’ve let that person’s needs fall through the crack and you apologize and here is what you are going to do to make it right to earn their trust. Or, your dreaded email may be to a client that you have to tell you simply don’t have any news for and although you know they desperately need news, nothing on their account has changed but here is what you are actively doing to help and you will devote yourself to it. Or maybe you need to respond to an email asking for your time and be honest with them that their cause is important to you but your plate is full right now and you aren’t able to devote the attention to them that they need.
Think of the most successful person you know. Do they read books? Do they read the newspaper? Do they read email newsletters and blogs? Or are they already done learning and they’ve quit. Of course they haven’t stopped learning, all successful people have an inherent desire to cram as much knowledge into their brains as possible and it isn’t always work related. Being well informed means you’re in touch with trends and ahead of the curve, you’re raising your competency level every day rather than resting on your laurels.
Actions to take: read at least one physical book each month about business or your industry and subscribe to a monthly print magazine that you read from cover to cover. Subscribe to as many digital magazines (like this one of course) and blogs that your time can possibly handle and read during your down time (on the subway, in dead still traffic, while on hold, etc.). Be a sponge and take in as much information as your brain can possibly handle, then push yourself to cram in more.
Being accessible is tricky because you’re busy, your day is packed, and we just loaded more on to you by demanding that you read more, we get it. But, every young entrepreneur returns emails quickly and (this is tricky) is kind. The most popular brands and leaders are the ones that remember your name and treat the bagger at the grocery store the same as their investor, as if they are important – not because they’re a lead, but because they are passionate people that will talk about their company at any chance they are given. When you always push people off on to your secretary, they feel unimportant and as if they have no value – successful entrepreneurs work a lot of hours, but much of that is because they are accessible.
Actions to take: if you haven’t turned on email notifications to your phone, do so right now. It will be annoying at first, but as your typing speeds up and you get used to responding quickly, you’ll get the hang of it. If you already have alerts and ignore them, stop it. That kid bagging your groceries is only 16, but he may be a coding genius that could be your next great innovator, and that young startup emailing you asking for coffee may not get that coffee, but may get an email conversation with you that ends in his investing in your company. Inaccessibility implies you’re important than other people, and even if you believe that to be true, stop it.
There is this notion that entrepreneurs, especially tech entrepreneurs are not competitive simply because they ask for feedback frequently and they are often laid back. Injecting youth into your organization doesn’t mean being cut throat, but it doesn’t mean playing hacky sack on the front lawn every day. Entrepreneurs know that at any time, someone could be 30 seconds behind them with the next big thing and that they have to have to hustle (in a good way). Remaining competitive means studying other companies and not assuming that because they’re smaller or older that they don’t have any market share you can snatch up. Competition doesn’t mean seeing red when your competitor does well, it means pushing yourself harder.
Actions to take: pick one competitor and track your company’s performance against theirs. This could be in dollars, in client acquisition, in investment, or in other results. Keep this at your desk and manually write down the key performance metric you’re charting. Writing it manually will commit it to memory and make you commit to the reality that there are competitors no matter who or where you are. Even Zuckerberg has major competitors.
Have you ever noticed how magnetic truly successful entrepreneurs are? They may not all dress well or be well spoken, but there is something about them that inspires others, and often it is that passion but moreso, it is an unrelenting positive attitude about their company and not a smiling-through-their-teeth kind of positivity, but an I-built-this-wonderful-company-from-the-ground-up and a this-company-is-my-baby kind of positivity. Want that youthful feeling at your company? Be a leader that inspires and motivates rather than asserts authority.
Actions to take: Tomorrow, when you go in to the office, go to the employee’s office that is the lowest on the totem pole and ask what they think of a project they are working on. See if they exude positivity about your company. If they are unenthusiastic or if there is a glimmer of boredom in their eyes, it isn’t their fault, it’s yours. A genuinely positive attitude about a company’s mission is contagious and should shine in everything a company does, no matter how menial. If your staff is bored, you need to stop what you’re doing and inspire those around you by telling them why the company exists, what’s in its DNA. This isn’t a pep talk, this is a culture injection that needs to happen asap.
That hip, collaborative environment in Silicon Valley (where everyone has an open door and they toss ideas around openly and get pumped up about a tiny tweak to the website) is real and you can have it too. As a leader, are you open to criticism from staff, customers, press or yourself? Are you open to rejection? Some leaders struggle with this and believe they know best and one in a trillion leaders are right (ask Steve Jobs who never used focus groups rather used his young staff’s ideas mixed with his gut instinct on product marketability). Good leaders ask people they trust for input, but great leaders are open to feedback from everyone, no matter how small.
Actions to take: if this is hard for you, remember that rejection is part of business. Start small. Email a friend in your industry that doesn’t work with or for you and ask for their feedback on the latest changes to your company. It can be a website redesign, a staff change, a simple press release or a new service offering. Practice with someone you trust and build from there with the goal of not being defensive when you get an email (because you’re now accessible, right?) that says your website sucks, rather ask critics what they would do differently.
By being passionate, honest, informed, accessible, competitive, inspirational and open, your company will have the vibrant feel of a brand new startup and inject youth into your company. It all starts with you and what your motivation every morning is, so cram your brains full of information and find a way to tap into the reason why you got into this industry to begin with, then let it flow through everything you do.