When you think about the accomplishments of great business leaders, the scope of their achievements may seem intimidating. After all, they’ve made huge waves in the world of business, whereas you may feel like you’ve barely made a splash. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t learn from them in order to become a better leader yourself.
Let’s examine some habits of great business leaders that you can adopt to strengthen your leadership skills. When practiced consistently, these great habits can set you apart and help your business grow.
7. Create routines. Great leaders know that routines help eliminate unnecessary distractions and decisions. Take Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg, for example. He simplified the decision of “what to wear” by sporting the daily uniform of jeans and a hoodie. Your workday should save time and money by managing the right way, have routines that increase efficiency and cut out trivial decisions.
Make it a habit:In addition to standardizing your uniform, there are many things you can do to help automate your day. For example, check your email only three times a day: in the morning, lunch and an hour before leaving. Other than that, keep your inbox closed. You’ll be surprised at how much time you save. “What if someone has an emergency?” you ask. Well, if it’s a real emergency, they’ll call you.
6. Think on it. Great leaders think things through. Advocates for World Health founder Ryan Kania takes a weekly hike by himself, carrying along his journal. This gives him the chance to disengage from and then reassess the problems that his business is facing.
Make it a habit: Carve out time to think deeply each day. The next time something stresses you out – write it down. Write down what the problem is, how it makes you feel, what is going to happen if the problem continues and what you can do about it. Then step away from that problem for a few hours. Come back to it and reread what you wrote. This exercise helps you see the issue for what it really is, instead of through the lens of a problem.
5. Plan. Great leaders don’t just have big ideas; they make big ideas a reality with careful planning. Serial entrepreneur Elon Musk always appears fifty steps ahead of the industry. After selling PayPal, he now uses his fortune to finance his space exploration company SpaceX and his electric luxury car company Tesla Motors. Musk didn’t just decide on a whim to start a space exploration company. He had a plan in place and selling PayPal was the first step.
Make it a habit: Clearly define your goal and make it measurable. Don’t just plan for a successful business, be specific. Define what success will look like. Then ask yourself every night before bed “if I spend every day like this, will I reach my goal?” If the answer is no, make the necessary adjustments.
4. Take decisive timely actions. Great leaders know that a decent plan executed today is better than an awesome plan executed after it’s too late. CEO of JetBlue airlines, David Neeleman had to act fast in attending to customers concerns when an ice storm forced the company to cancel over 1,000 flights in 2007. He promptly drafted a customer bill of rights and a public letter of apology. Then, he went on television and YouTube to explain his plan to compensate customers.
Today, JetBlue enjoys its 1st place ranking for customer service among airlines according to NY Daily News. Make it a habit: Being decisive doesn’t mean being reckless. Get as much information as possible and then make a pros and cons list for each of your options. Once you’ve weighed each decision, imagine your life 5, 10 and 30 years down the road if you’d made each decision. Then act decisively.
3. Be Vulnerable. Own your mistakes. Great leaders know that sometimes plans don’t work out. When you encounter setbacks, you have to own them. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos recently said in a Business Insider interview, “I’ve made billions of dollars of failures at Amazon” and then went on to list some of the company’s biggest flops (pets.com, anyone?).
Make it a habit: Everything is on you when you run a business. When something goes wrong, ask yourself, “How is this tied to my decision-making?” Even if it was an employee who made the mistake, you’re the one who hired and trained them – or hired the people who hired and trained them. When you own this level of responsibility, admitting you made a mistake isn’t a big deal because you’ve accepted that everything is your decision. This sounds overwhelming but it is actually quite empowering.
2. Make others feel heard. Great leaders know that their employees help provide the creativity and energy needed to grow a business. That’s why it’s important to listen to their ideas and concerns. Jim Sinegal, CEO of Costco, told Entrepreneur.com he literally moved his desk to the middle of a hallway so that anyone in the building could access him. His employees are free to discuss issues with him without having to jump through hoops to get a meeting. It’s no surprise that Costco has also enjoyed a 12% turnover rate for the last 3 decades.
Make it a habit: Pay attention to what you say when chatting with employees. Do you follow up their statements with a statement about yourself, or do you follow up with a question that encourages them to continue? Try to keep the conversation focused on the other person and make note of the important things they tell you. Casually follow up with them about it a few days after the conversation. This subtle bit of selfless conversation shows your employees that you are genuinely interested and value their input. Plus, it’ll help you stay abreast of the workplace happenings that otherwise might not reach your ears.
1. Invest in others. Great leaders make it their mission to help employees reach their potential, which means investing time, energy and resources to help employees grow. According to MSNBC, under the leadership of CEO Steve Ells, Chipotle Mexican Grill will offer paid vacation, sick leave and tuition reimbursement to all of its employees. Analysts are now predicting its profits to increase in the next year.
Make it a habit: No matter your budget or business size, you should always be educating your employees. In the next month, make it a point to offer one educational experience to every employee. It doesn’t have to be a fancy seminar that costs a fortune; it could simply be the latest and greatest instructional video or a subscription to a magazine that would be helpful for them. In three months, find a new educational bonus to offer them but keep the old one around if it’s still relevant.
Don’t feel overwhelmed by all of these steps. Remember they’re just that: Steps! Try adding a new one to your life every two weeks. Keep at it until that new step becomes a habit. Then move on to the next one on the list. As best-selling author Sean Covey says, “We become what we repeatedly do.”
Still curious? Learn more about startup leadership done right with the Business Owner’s Playbook.