Everyone who starts or owns a business expects to be the best of breed, but only a few achieve that status. As a startup mentor and advisor, I often contemplate what makes the difference between winners and losers. I’m convinced that it’s a lot more than the foibles of any specific market, availability of funding, and just luck of the draw. I believe the best make their own luck.
I’ve noticed that the top performers in business, as in most other professions, have a common set of traits in the way they think, as well as act. So if you aspire to be the next Jeff Bezos or Bill Gates in business, you might want to compare the following traits to your own, and focus on adopting the ones you don’t have, as much as you focus on your next idea to change the world:
- Figure out first what you most want to achieve in life. I find business people all around me who are working hard to make more money, when what they really want is a work-life balance that allows them to enjoy family and help others. I advise them to find their personal passion, rather than trying to achieve someone else’s view of success.
- Stop dreaming about your passion and start acting on it. Too many aspiring entrepreneurs I know are very quick to come up with new ideas, but are not so quick on the execution side. To be successful in business, you need a high focus on results, as well as thinking. Business implementation requires determination and never giving up.
- Constantly strive to learn new things and do things better. The best of you see yourselves as lifelong learners, and able to adapt to change, no matter what your age or level of experience. Always keep looking for ways to improve and grow, rather than ways to slow down and let the business run itself. In other words, stay hungry and humble.
- Face and conquer your fear of a step into the unknown. Average business people push their fears ahead of them, and never make the next big step. We all have fears of the unknown, but the best of you will document the challenges ahead of you, and tackle them one by one with a plan, getting the help and learning from each success and failure.
- Build relationships to complement your strengths. We all have strengths and weaknesses, so don’t be fooled by your ego. Starting and running a business is not a solo operation, so building the right relationships is key. Capitalize on these relationships by listening well and delegating well. Tap into the strengths of others to fill your gaps. The relationship between Bill Gates and Warren Buffett is a prime example. While they have always been in totally different businesses, both still give much credit to the other for their own success. They have long been good friends and learned from each other.
- Grow yourself by growing the people around you. The best business people are also the best mentors and coaches. They are not afraid of giving someone a lead or inspiring them to move on to bigger and better things. By helping others, you become stronger in your eyes as well as theirs. They may someday be able to come back and pull you along. Sir Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Atlantic and the Virgin Group, now controls more than 400 companies in various fields. He attributes much of his success to his focus on growing the best people, and giving them the opportunity to run his new companies.
- Strive to build a legacy as well as a business. Leaving a legacy larger than your business requires that you keep a focus on the bigger picture. The best business people not only build a successful business, but they change the world – perhaps by improving the environment, helping the less fortunate, or fostering a disruptive technology. According to many people who know him, Elon Musk has always put a higher purpose above making money. His focus on SpaceX, Tesla, Solar City, and other initiatives all have a large component of “shaping the future,” as well as meeting business objectives.
I believe these traits of proven top performers in business, as well as other professions, are the keys to success that you must emulate, even more than finding that unique innovation or huge untapped market opportunity. Above all, it’s important to move quickly from thinking to doing, learn from your mistakes, and recognize when it’s time to pivot as the world changes around you.