Monday, May 29, 2017

Do You Have What it Takes To Be a Business Leader?

Bill_Gates_speaking_at_DFIDRunning a business is not rocket science. As a long-time business advisor, and occasional investor, I have seen many successful businesses lead by college dropouts and people with average intelligence. Investors don’t look at CEOs for advanced degrees, but they do look for experience and emotional intelligence, often before they even evaluate the business plan.

Every business has to start with a leader – someone to drive through the thousand unknowns of every new venture, no matter how big the opportunity, or how amazing the technology. Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, and Mark Zuckerberg never finished college, and all started with virtually no business experience, but still they attracted the team and funding they needed to succeed.

So what are the right attributes of an aspiring business leader or founder? I just finished a new book, “The EQ Leader,” by Steven J. Stein, PhD, who is a leading expert on psychological assessment and emotional intelligence. I like his list of competencies, with my tips on how to highlight them, to score certain people as potential business leaders to peers and investors:

  1. Agility in learning. Agility in learning is the ability to diagnose the need for new skill sets and to acquire them quickly, despite incessant business pressures of change and no time available. In business, this agility is called “street smarts,” and is a coveted attribute. As an entrepreneur, even with no prior startups, you must highlight non-business examples.

  2. Communication skills. Effective communication in business requires an efficient flow of information to all constituents, and ability to share in any media, including speaking, writing, and listening. It also includes using and reading body language and state of mind. My angel group always asks the CEO to do the talking, to test their communication skills.

  3. Emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence is the ability to work your way through tough business situations, and the ability to perceive, to understand, and to manage emotion, as well as to integrate thought with emotion when making decisions. Venture capital investors have been known to make controversial assertions to test your reaction.

  4. Resiliency/flexibility. Resiliency is the ability to recover quickly from failures, and pivot with lessor business changes. It includes the ability to discard experience that is no longer relevant or useful, and to change direction in accordance with new information. Be careful how you position any startups failures, and what you learned from the experience.

  5. Quest for excellence. A quest for excellence is the ability to hold your company and team to the highest standards, and to consistently exceed the expectations of customers. Leaders with this attribute always strive for the highest personal performance, as well. Positive examples from non-business experiences and efforts will help your case here.

  6. Self-confidence. Self-confidence is possessing and displaying credible assurance and self-reliance, without continual positive feedback from friends and advisors. It is the ability to envision business success and to communicate a sense of well-being to others. In business, don’t step over that fine line between self-confidence and overbearing ego.

  7. Creativity and innovation. These terms embody the ability to produce new ideas by thinking outside the box, and solving problems through calculated risks. In business, creativity and innovation are not a one-time thing, but must be done continually. When talking to investors, your examples from outside of business are equally valuable.

  8. Moral courage. Moral courage is a clearly articulated set of values and beliefs that drives business, as well as personal actions and decisions. Moral courage may also require physical courage when the consequences are lost business or physical peril. In business, actions speak louder than words. Associates and investors are watching.

  9. Accountability. Accountability is the willingness to accept full responsibility for all business actions and decisions, with a natural aversion to excuses. It implies the willingness to follow-up on fulfillment of all commitments, major and minor. I always listen carefully to the explanation, when aspiring entrepreneurs are late or miss a meeting.

  10. Cultural adaptability. Cultural sensitivity is the ability to perceive and learn from people strengths in different geographical regions, ethnic groups, and between different organizations and team subcultures, and to adapt behavior accordingly and positively. These days, the business value of cultural diversity is huge. Watch your team makeup.

  11. Decisiveness. Decisiveness is the practice of making a business choice or determining a course of action in a reasonable timeframe, by efficiently using and processing the best information available. It also means making good decisions with incomplete information. There is a reason that the savvy investors on Shark Tank often ask for a quick decision.

Of course, investors would prefer that all new businesses be led by entrepreneurs with a track record, and all the attributes highlighted here. But that never happens. All you have to do as a new business owner is highlight the strengths you have, and concentrate on developing at least one more than your key competitor. I haven’t yet found a perfect business leader yet.

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on Inc.com on 05/16/2017 ***

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