his past October, Richard Branson appeared at the Forbes 30 Under 30 Summit to answer the ever-burning questions about what it takes to be an entrepreneurial leader and just to keep it interesting, the moderator brought up three up-and-coming millennial entrepreneurs to weigh in as well.
Branson was blindfolded during each question and the millennials were asked to silently give their answer first (by raising their hands to “True or False” statements). One of the most surprising responses came out of the statements “Entrepreneurs are born, not made.” While each of the three millennials raised their hands in agreement that, yes, entrepreneurs are born, Branson disagreed.
He talked about his experiences when he was just starting out and how sometimes, he had no idea what he was doing. He just knew he had to try something different and assess the result – then try something else!
While it may sound exclusive and glamorous that entrepreneurial leadership is a skill that only a gifted few are born with, the truth is these skills are something one develops over time. The role of a leader is ever-evolving; with as fast as our world is moving, leadership tools used yesterday are becoming obsolete in the current digital landscape.
Ask any business person and they’ll probably tell you that Richard Branson is an incredible leader and he certainly is! He’s also a very specific, eccentric one, too. What works for him, might not work for you. The trick is to learn in real time and develop your own personal leadership style.
Here are some things that will help you along the way:
Build a Diverse Team
If you’re constantly listening to people who think exactly the same way that you do, you’re going to run into some major issues. Instead, you want to create a bold, diverse team of people that can see your product and company from all sides. These should be people that aren’t afraid to push back, ask the tough questions, and be relentless about offering the best outcome. Having a diverse team like this will not only help your company grow, but it will also help you learn and grow as a leader.
To quote Vince Lombardi, “The challenge of every team is to build a feeling of oneness because the question is usually not how well each person performs, but how well they work together.” Once you’ve created this dream team, your job is to continuously innovate new ways to keep them challenged, motivated, fulfilled, and cohesive with one another.
Justin Kittredge, CEO of ISlides knows this keenly. “We believe a key factor to keeping our team happy and motivated is about allowing them to use their talent and skills in a way that fosters growth and innovation; thus, cultivating an environment of organic synergy amongst the team. Skills are teachable to the right people, the synergy between those people cannot be.”
After all, the secret behind a successful business lies in hard-working and happy employees.
Rafael Sarria, a serial entrepreneur, emphasizes on the words ‘communication’ and ‘appreciation.’ He believes in the importance of communicating with your employees that their hard work is appreciated. If employees feel a disconnect, they will be left feeling uncertain-consequently not able to give their best, resulting in low morale.
Plus, feedback will let them know what is expected out of them, resulting in a more cohesive work environment which ultimately leads to better performance.
Choose the Right Partner
So many people put a tremendous amount of thought into who their life partner will be, but less so their business partner. This can be extremely detrimental. Businesses (like marriages) take work from both partners; before you sign a contract with anyone, you need to be as sure as possible they’re the right one. Remember, just because someone is smart, accomplished, and successful doesn’t mean their leadership style is compatible with yours. It’s best to ease into a partnership (DATE!) before you metaphorically “put a ring on it.”
In my opinion, the best way to make sure you’re compatible with a prospective partner is to actually work together. Depending on whatever your business does, maybe try teaming up on a particular project or client. This way, you can see each other in action, really assess strengths and weaknesses, and determine whether or not you compliment each other.
Once you’ve experienced the actual work and feel confident moving to the next phase of conversation, it’s best to lay it all out on the table. Jared Johnson, co-founder of CardPro Systems, suggests: “If you decide to partner up with someone, make sure they share your same vision for your company, but even more importantly for your priorities in and outside of the office.”
Discuss what your goals are both personally and professionally to figure out if you’re in alignment. Discuss your vision for the company now, five years from now, ten years from now, and twenty years from now. “We found that picking a great business partner is a simple formula: personalize the relationship before trying to profitize it,” says Steve Collins, COO of Oksa Wellness. “We often seek partners who implicitly understand our business as well as our target markets.”
Choosing an inappropriate partner can really cramp your leadership style. Make sure to do all of this groundwork if you decide you want grow a business with someone else.
Master Social Media
Social media is larger than ever. Instagram recently announced hitting 600 million users, and Facebook boasts over 1.6 billion active monthly users, the opportunity for businesses to market their products and services continues to grow. A recent study detailed by Tech Times found that the majority of Americans expect leaders to use social media to connect with their customers. This can be a learning curve in and of itself.
Sarria believes that the presence of so many social media networks often makes it difficult for business to concentrate on them all, resulting in failures. “Businesses should concentrate only on social media platforms that are useful to them and house their target audience,” he says. For example, if you are offering courses for entrepreneurs, you should focus on LinkedIn since most of its users are professionals.
Even with an established following on social media, how we engage with those people is crucial to long-term success. “I never lose sight that there is a real person behind each new follower-each new follower isn’t just another number. I make it a point every day to interact with my fans on social media; I believe that type of authentic interaction is one of the driving forces behind the recent growth of my company,” says Walter McCarty, Assistant Coach of the Boston Celtics, Alumni NBA Player and Founder of 8ty2 Socks.
The three aspects of leadership we’ve discussed here are all food for thought based on what’s working, but ultimately, no one can tell you how to be a leader – that’s up to you. What I can say is, you should never limit yourself because you don’t have all of the answers. Instead, learn in real time and become a leader that you yourself would be proud to follow.