No matter whether I’m speaking to a new or an established founder, the most common question I hear, across all industries, is this: what differentiates the entrepreneurs who make it from the ones who don’t? Are there specific characteristics or behaviors that an entrepreneur needs to exhibit in order to be successful?
I recently read Mastering Leadership, Shift the Drift and Change the World by Michael Strasner, which focuses on the 12 distinctions that define master leaders. Strasner has more than 30 years of experience as a professional coach and trainer, and is also a founder in his own right. He started his company Direct Impact, Inc. in 1996 and has coached executive teams for both boutique firms and Fortune 500 companies including Merrill Lynch and Time Inc.
When asked what set the winners apart, Strasner offered these four pieces of advice.
Commit yourself to your vision, no excuses
What separates successful entrepreneurs from the wannabes is that a real entrepreneur is so committed to making his or her idea a reality that there is no Plan B. They are locked in. When you are locked in, you figure it out. You leave no stone unturned. You don’t give up. And you find the people that have as much passion for your idea as you do to help you make it into something with staying power.
But Strasner cautions jumping in until you can be sure you are able to fully commit. “If you half-ass it, this will show up in your attitude, presentation, and an incomplete business plan, then others will see your lack of commitment and you will fail.” What separates excellence from the ordinary or mediocrity is diligence and an attention to detail.
Don’t let your work define your self-worth
Investing in your idea, your industry, your audience and getting those details right are all key to achieving success. But you also need to remember that whatever the outcome, those results do not define who you are.
“As soon as I sense desperation, I’m out. I have to know that the person I’m working with can live and be okay without it,” Strasner explained.
Entrepreneurs who are successful are not afraid to fail. When Richard Branson launched his test for Virgin Galactic in 2014, there was an accident and his first test flight failed. But Branson persisted, with this project and several others, and he re-launched successfully in December, 2018.
“It doesn’t matter who you are. Everyone has breakdowns and makes mistakes,” Strasner noted of the Branson project. “When you learn that you are not defined by one success or failure, you are able to truly commit and succeed.”
Share the stage
Many investors will tell you that, if you are going to be successful, you must create an A team, assembling leaders around you who not only aligned with your vision and take it as their own, but add extraordinary value to it as well. A solid entrepreneur is able to utilize his or her talents and strengths, while working around any liabilities or deficiencies. But this is not always the case.
“My experience of many founders is that they often want to be the center of attention, the superstar, and then surround themselves with a supporting cast and extras,” said Strasner.
What matters more? Research & development or the CEO? Human resources or finance? Remember that in the long run, everything matters, so give each arm of your business the time and attention it needs. Your goal is to create an upwardly mobile organization, and one that can continue to thrive, even if you are not there to lead it.
“In my experience, many early stage entrepreneurs are controlling and narcissistic, which means the company will never be as big as you – and when you take your foot off the gas, the vehicle stops,” said Strasner. “The highest possibility for entrepreneurs are to be star makers versus stars themselves.”
Know when it’s time to move on
Perhaps the most important characteristic for Strasner is the ability to know when it is time to let go and level up.
“I see far too many founders who reach a certain level and then want to maintain and control to that standard,” he said. “Part of being unattached is celebrating the first level and then be willing to give it all up in order to grow again.”
Successful leaders never lose the passion to redesign and reinvent. It is important to let go of your attachment to what you created in the past. And be willing to operate from a new context and create something that goes beyond what you viewed as possible yesterday.