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6 entrepreneurial lessons from great leaders

Few business owners start out as entrepreneurs. Just like building a company, becoming an entrepreneur is a process full of growth, both personal and professional. And the truth is, no one can do it alone. We all need guidance, mentorship, and inspiration. So here are six lessons from great leaders that will help any owner on their path to becoming a true entrepreneur and creating a sustainable, profitable, and thriving business.

1. Build systems to create lasting success

Anything that is measured and watched, improves.

Bob Parson, founder of GoDaddy

As a proud U.S. Marine veteran and a serial entrepreneur, it’s no surprise that Bob Parsons is a fan of systems. Without having intelligent systems to measure and manage everything significant in the business, he could never have grown and sold his first company for $64M, or gone on to lead his 13 currently active companies. To build a business that operates self-sufficiently—one that produces consistent and predictable results again and again—you need to translate the way you do it into the way we do it here. In other words, you need proprietary systems that serve your people, your strategic goals, and yourself as an owner. Having this level of structure stabilizes your business for growth and gives you the space necessary to hone your entrepreneurial skills.

2. Create a culture of empowerment

Culture is more than what your company wears on its sleeve. It’s deeper and more subtle. It starts with an environment of supportive leadership that’s focused on letting the true talents and greatest potential of your people shine.

David Hassell, Co-founder and CEO of 15Five

David Hassell believes so much in the power of transparency, authenticity, and vulnerability to uplift a company’s culture and increase employee engagement that he started his own business to champion these ideas. As CEO of 15Five, he still actively contributes to the company’s mission to help organizations reach their full potential through employee growth. He knows that creating a thriving, high-performance culture—one in which every employee is committed to the company vision and truly wants to do their best—relies on promoting individual development. Employees need to feel your investment in them if they’re going to meaningfully invest in the business. And we at EMyth completely agree. We believe so much in the value of employee engagement, we use 15Five to aid in our Employee Development Meetings.

3. Focus on authenticity over perfection

[P]resenting leadership as a list of carefully defined qualities (like strategic, analytical, and performance-oriented) no longer holds. Instead, true leadership stems from individuality that is honestly and sometimes imperfectly expressed … Leaders should strive for authenticity over perfection.

Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook and founder of LeanIn.org

Being your authentic self is central to Sheryl Sandberg’s approach to professional success. It encourages honest communication, which promotes effectiveness at work. A lack of honesty for the sake of protecting yourself or others, as she explains in Lean In, can lead to resentment, unresolved conflicts, and retention of culturally or professionally unfit employees. On the other hand, if you’re authentic in all situations, you make better decisions—decisions driven by your values and what’s important to you.

To be a true leader and inspire those around you to do the same, an entrepreneur must work from a place of authenticity. Only then can you truly discover who you are as a business owner, where you’re going, and how you’ll get there.

4. Use your time to work on the right things

We think, mistakenly, that success is the result of the amount of time we put in at work, instead of the quality of time we put in.

Arianna Huffington, author and businesswoman

In her book Thrive: The Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating a Life of Well-Being, Wisdom, and Wonder, Arianna Huffington defines well-being as a critically important metric for success. And well-being can be lost to working too much. Too often, we equate being busy—even overwhelmed—with being productive and successful. The truth is, productivity comes from a smart use (rather than an overuse) of your time.

For the business owner, putting too much time into the wrong work can be counterproductive. You can spend a lot of time working—time taken from life and health and family—and feel like you’re getting nowhere. If you consider your business as your product (which you should), your time is best spent working on it instead of drowning in the day-to-day operations. The more you practice this, the more productive you’ll feel in the work you put into your business, and the more time you’ll have for…well…everything.

5. Free yourself from the technical work

When approaching a task I usually find myself thinking, “What can I do to make this happen in the future without myself or one of the other directors needing to be involved?

Paul Beatty, Co-founder of Showcase Creative

When Paul Beatty co-founded Showcase Creative, neither he nor his partners had experience running a company. They knew well the technical side of print production, but for the major business functions like finance, marketing, and production, they had to learn along the way.

This is a familiar story to a lot of entrepreneurs. But these three directors differed from many new business owners in how they viewed their ownership of those business roles. Paul explains this approach in The E-Myth in Practice: How We Built Our Printing Business: “As we worked and our roles developed, we kept in mind that we were modeling roles for someone else to be slotted into in the future.” Like many entrepreneurs, Paul and his partners were doing everything in the business—but always with the intention of stepping away. To grow from a business owner into an entrepreneur, you need to have the space to define exactly how you want to work within the business. Maybe you’d like to be heavily involved, or maybe you’d like to lead mostly from the outside. But before you can make that leap, you need to define your organizational structure and build the systems that will allow you to slowly replace yourself in the technical roles. And that requires thinking in this way and planning for it from the start.

6. Grow yourself—not just your business

A true business opportunity is the one that an entrepreneur invents to grow him or herself. Not to work in, but to work on. That’s the work of the entrepreneur.

Michael E. Gerber, author of The E-Myth Revisited

Since 1977, when Michael E. Gerber co-founded the Michael Thomas Corporation—known today as EMyth—he’s been helping business owners to become entrepreneurs, developing the skills and mindset needed to stop being a Technician who works in the business and become an Entrepreneur who works on the business. And one critical differentiator is how you relate to your business.

For the Technician—whether they’re aware of it or not—their business is an opportunity to have a job of their own design. An Entrepreneur, on the other hand, sees their business as a chance to create something that “captures the attention and imagination” of their customers, employees, and investors (to name a few). As Michael explains in Awakening the Entrepreneur Within, “The passion of the entrepreneur is not to run a successful business…but to invent a unique business that becomes successful.”

So the entrepreneur is, in essence, an inventor. And the entrepreneurial passion is not to buy a business that sells a successful product, but to create a business that is a successful product and to work on and grow that business—not just for the sake of success, but for the sake of growing yourself. This relationship to your business can be innate or learned, but either way, you have to cultivate it.

Every entrepreneurial journey is different, and every leader has a different lesson (or lessons) that helped them along the way. What’s yours? Tell us in a comment below.

Kirstin Fulton

Written by Kirstin Fulton

Kirstin Fulton is a Content Creator for EMyth, where she partners with every department to develop content that inspires and educates business owners on their entrepreneurial journey. She has a background as a teacher, storyteller, and writing and editing for corporate events, digital and print media, and both business and academic curriculum. She’s passionate about serving the EMyth community—our clients, Coaches, and colleagues—through writing that brings clarity, guidance, and enthusiasm to the everyday.

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