Leaders in Entrepreneurship Share 8 Paths to Becoming Great

Below are 8 Takeaways from this Year’s Top Entrepreneurs Fireside chats at Stanford Graduate School of Business.

#1 Great Leaders Attract The Best and The Brightest Talent

Great Leadership creates an environment that attracts the best and the brightest people. Progressive leaders understand that talented professionals seek workplaces where autonomous judgement is encouraged. This means less micromanagement, and more empowerment. “With them you share the financial and psychic rewards of success,” states Mark Leslie, who teaches courses in Entrepreneurship, Ethics and Organization for Stanford Graduate School of Business

For basketball prodigy-turned-business mogul, Earvin “Magic” Johnson, the best and brightest talent comes in diverse packages. “Magic” argues that great leadership “hires the way America looks,” adding that “in the next 20 years, half, or more than half of America is going to be minorities.”  Hiring bright minorities has multiple payoffs. On the one hand, they bring a desire to prove themselves, states Johnson, and on the other, they also contribute valuable insights into cultural markets and communities.

For me it’s easy. I like to hire young, bright people. You have to have people skills to work for me, too. It’s not just being smart. I want somebody who can also go out, represent us and grow the brand,” states “Magic” Johnson.

#2 Great Leadership Builds Stewardship not Proprietorship

Talented professionals seek more than just a paycheck. They are looking for a feeling of belonging that happens when an employee is well-matched to a work community; they want to be an integral part of something special. Great leaders tap into this knowledge, and adjust their language to reflect inclusivity.

In a proprietorship, states Mark Leslie, the language of a company is “I, Me, Mine, What can you do to make me more rich?” In a stewardship, “it is we, us and ours.” The idea of stewardship focuses on collective power, and companies that practice stewardship use words like, “together.”  Bright professionals seek to join the latter, knowing that their talent will not only grow someone else’s business, but also their own.

#3 Great Leaders Know How To Build Community And Pay Attention To Culture:

The responsibility of a leader is to think of the group as a whole, states Stanford Graduate School of Business professor, Jesper Sorensen.To attract and retain talent, a good leader strategically organizes their people with particular attention to incentives. Without them, bright talent may experience a block in their growth, and look for opportunities elsewhere.

#4 Great Leaders Build Trust

To build trust, a leader trusts first.  “This is something many people are reluctant to do,” argues Leslie. Going first, means sharing decision-making that most companies wouldn’t dare to allow. There are some risks in trusting first, concedes Leslie. The trust you place in your group can be betrayed, “but the cost of the occasional betrayal is far lower than the benefit of building trust with the rest of the people.”

 It benefits leaders to build a trusting environment. “Trust is like a bank account. Someday, you are going to have hard times and you are going to want people to stand by you. And if you haven’t’ made any deposits in the trust bank, then there’s going to be nothing to take out,” stresses Leslie.

#5 Great Leaders Check their Ego At the Door and Learn from Failure

If great leaders expect punctuality, they are the first to get to work. They lead with confidence, but they are also aware of their weaknesses and surround themselves with experts who complement their expertise. They have overcome adversity, faced criticism and experienced failures. But these have not defined nor defeated them. When projects have fallen apart, they have searched for lessons, what did we learn when we didn’t win?

#6 Great Leaders Seek Mentors

Great leaders are not shy about asking questions. “Mentors were so important to me. That’s why I was meeting with so many people, because I was hungry for knowledge,” states Magic Johnson on his transition from basketball player to CEO. “Magic,” recalls that his first test as an entrepreneur was gaining respect and credibility from the business world. He had raw ideas but needed help to translate them into power.

Great leaders listen, tweak their plans when necessary, swiftly alter paths, and can adjust to unforeseen circumstances without losing their vision. They understand that flexibility and adaptability are not signs of weakness, but rather strategic adjustments to change.

#7 Great Leaders Figure Out What a Company is Doing Right and Does More Of It

When joining a new company in a senior leadership role, HP CEO, Meg Whitman, encourages leaders to figure out what a company is doing right, and do more of it.

Your instinct will be to fix what is wrong,” argues Whitman, “to make a list of all the things that need to be fixed and go after them. You’ll eventually get to your to do list, and your fix it list. But if you come in and talk about what is going wrong, you will lose hearts and minds.”

Instead, Whitman advises to start with what’s working and to get acquainted with a company’s DNA. When it comes to good leadership, Whitman states that it is important to win the hearts and minds of people, to promote talent from within, as well as attract talent from innovators in the industry. When people connect over a shared area of business, the company’s culture thrives.

As you immerse yourself in your new role, and find that you lack in technological abilities, “surround yourself with people who will help you plot the technology path.” Even when you try to protect what is working in a company, there will be those who will challenge your new role and test you, “don’t be afraid to push back, and lead.”

#8 Great Leaders Know They Cannot Do It All

As she wrapped up her interview with Stanford graduate students, a student asked the HP CEO how she juggled her leadership role with family duties. She responded that it had not always been easy. At first, she had struggled to be the perfect mother, perfect CEO and the perfect charity person. Once she realized perfection in all areas wasn’t possible, she gave up on some things.

My house does not look like Martha Stewart just left. Everything’s a tradeoff.”





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