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There are good Entrepreneurs and there are great Entrepreneurs. Those two types of entrepreneurs are different. There are plenty of traits that separate these two kinds of entrepreneurs and are hallmarks of brilliance over everyday competency. These sorts of traits are traits that inspire employees and customers alike and drive sales, success, and passion without even knowing that they are doing it. The following traits are what every entrepreneur needs to incorporate into their lifestyle starting from their workplace. They are some of the best things that you can have as part of your life as an Entrepreneur CEO.

Be fair.

Fairness comes first. You can be tough and even brutal at times but be fair in your judgment, and give credit where credit is due. No one wants to work for someone who is unfair. When you are let down, hold people accountable for it, but when push comes to shove, swallow your pride. Be the bigger man, after all, you are the CEO.

Show empathy.

Show empathy not sympathy. Sympathy is letting emotions rule you. It's feeling sorry for people. Empathy is getting under other people's skin to understand them. As an Entrepreneur CEO, it is your job to get under the skin of your customers, your staff, and your stakeholders and figure out what makes them tick. Keep it human. Don't let your success go to your head. Emotional intelligence is as important (if not more) than analytical intelligence in running a business.

Be the benevolent dictator.

True democracy does not work in business (if anywhere). Drop the 'decisions by committee', and the never-ending conversations. It will slow you down; it will create bureaucracy, and indecisiveness, and will eventually kill you. Listen to everyone's opinion, create healthy debate but then take a firm and binding decision. Show decisiveness and conviction. Align everyone to your decision and march forward relentlessly. It matters less to be right all the time. You never will be. You will be wrong sometimes. It is OK. Any good CEO learns to fail first and realign, not fail, and stay drowned in failure. The benevolent dictator is the one who is decisive, taking action with the best intent at heart.

Give clear direction.

Give people clear goals and targets. Start with your grand vision and work backwards breaking it into milestones and goals in order to get there. People get lost if you leave them with the big picture. Remember, not everyone is an entrepreneur. They may not see the macro view that you do.

Hire people who are better than you.

Hire people who can do their job much better than you ever could. If you are not learning from them, it's a bad sign. Your instinct as a founder is one of the most important assets of the business, but you need to complement it with expert knowledge in the different functional areas of your business.

Delegate and hold people accountable

How much or how little to delegate is one of the trickiest bits of managing your team. Delegate too little and you are micromanaging. Delegate too much and you get detached, details get missed and things start going wrong. Learn to differentiate between details that don't really matter, things you can leave to others, and details that do. Doing a deep dive into the details that do is super important, even if you have an expert in that domain. Figure out the ones that matter and keep close to them, set targets, and hold people accountable for what they say they will do. There is no room for complacency in a startup or even any business; if you don't hold people accountable they will very soon walk all over you and nothing will get done.

Lead by example

As the CEO of your business, you should be working harder, and longer and care more than anyone else about your business. People need to see that commitment from you. As the leader of your business, a lot of the behavior in your organization will be shaped directly by your behavior. If you don't care about customers, your team won’t either. If you don't care about quality, your team won’t either. If you're not super responsive, they won’t be either. The best way to shape your culture is to set the example yourself, set the standard of quality, what's acceptable and what's not. People will then follow. You set the pace and others follow automatically.

Don’t manage, lead.

Managing and leading are two very different things. And in most cases, people are good at either one or the other. Managers know how to coordinate their team day in, and day out to reach targets. They are better than you at keeping tabs on all the moving parts and nurturing, sometimes hand-holding people to get there step by step. Managers do things right. Leaders do the right thing. Your job as a CEO is not to manage people. Your job is to figure out what's the next thing your business needs to go forward. To do that you need to free yourself from day-to-day management. If you try to do both, chances are one or the other (or both) will suffer.

Keep talking to your customers.

No matter how big or busy you get, it is super important you personally talk to your customers on a regular basis. At Young & Free International Limited, even though I'm getting busier every day I'm digging in deeper and finding time to communicate with at least 20 - 30 customers a day. I email them directly, often to find they are shocked to get an email from the CEO. They think it's spam sometimes, which makes me laugh. Remember, you’re not the customer. You're just the CEO. Don’t assume you know the customer better than you really do. But equally, learn to filter out the noise from the substance. Not all customers can articulate or put their finger on what they really want. That's your job to figure it out.

Strategize or die.

Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory, but "tactics" without strategy is the noise before defeat. Entrepreneurs are by nature scrappy, often master tacticians. That's why they manage to get something created out of nothing. But as you grow, you need to differentiate tactics from strategy. Tactics are the tweaks and constant optimizations you can make to lead to incremental improvement. Continuous improvement or Kaizen as the Japanese call it is super important. But it won’t get you all the way. At best you will have a super optimized efficient machine. It doesn't change the world. Strategy is what will drive step change and set you apart. Great tactics make you better than your competitors. But a great strategy will make your competitors irrelevant.

Learn to ask: what is important today?

If you have more than three priorities, you have none. Learn to have 3 major priorities at any one time. Sure you will have a backlog of little things as well. Don't become a victim of it, if you walk in every morning and work off your backlog you are living in the past and playing “catch up” all the time. You are in fire-fighting mode constantly. Develop daily amnesia, walk in, and ask yourself every day "What's important today". You don't need to make 50 decisions every day. You just need to take 1 - the right one.

Focus on stakeholder value.

It’s easy to get too absorbed in your deep passion for what you do and lose sight of what you are there to do as CEO. Drive stakeholder value- Value for your customers, value for your team, and value for your shareholders are what you should focus on as a great CEO.

Tell stories.

The best way to get your message across is through storytelling, metaphors, and analogies. Don't do buzzwords, geek talk, and heavy corporate language. Keep it human, light, and humorous. You need to charm your team, your customers, and your shareholders. People relate to stories, not buzzwords.

Have a deep sense of purpose.

Ask yourself: if your business disappeared tomorrow, would it really matter? To whom? And why? Aside from shareholders losing their money, you need a grander purpose than just making money. You need to be serving a need that makes a difference to the world. At Young & Free International, what gets us out of bed every morning is that sense of purpose we serve: supporting youth passionately and marketing brands better, giving them all an opportunity to explore their potential and live their dream of becoming successful in their different endeavors.

Be the gatekeeper.

Don't confuse delegation with gatekeeping. You need to be the ultimate gatekeeper in your company. You are the one defining and setting the standard. Define what permissible quality is for your company, from your customer communications, to design and product development, to how people get managed. People will push you to compromise that standard for the sake of moving faster old habits they bring from their past, or for giving more freedom. Freedom is fine as long as it adheres to that standard consistently. And you are the gatekeeper of that. Do not compromise it.

Set high goals. Don’t start small.

Your team members will often tell you, “Let us 'start small'.” But am telling you, if you start small, you stay small. Start big, set big bold goals, seemingly unreachable at first. If you set the goalpost low, you will at best be good. And good is the enemy of great. Reaching greatness starts with setting very high goals and pushing people to reach them. Stretch them beyond their limits: they may wing, complain that you are a tyrant, or expect too much. But in the end, they will thank you for it. There is no greater reward to your employees than making them better people at what they do and making them achieve what they thought was unachievable.

It is our competitive nature that drives us forward to achieve what was once thought unachievable. So, whatever you do, set high goals. Do not start small.

Self-reflect and step up.

Don't confuse confidence with self-reflection. Great CEOs are very self-reflective and demanding of themselves. They come across as super confident and sure of themselves on the outside. But they self-reflect. They are more critical of themselves than of others, they beat themselves up constantly for their shortcomings - just not in public. Don't doubt yourself in front of your team. But sure as hell doubt yourself when you go home and look yourself in the mirror. Figure out what your team needs more from you, how to become better, and step the hell up every day. If you're not stepping up every day you will remain stagnant.

Serve. Not get served.

Your job as a CEO is to serve others more than they serve you. Stop thinking about what you need from people for a minute and ask 'What do they need from me to do a better job?’ Figure out what your customers’ needs are, what your team needs, and what your shareholders need and serve them. The title of "boss" is vanity. The reality is that you are there to serve people much more than anyone else in your organization or company.

Develop a thick skin.

Being CEO of a business - especially if you are the founder - is an emotional rollercoaster. You will have some very low moments when you are alone with nobody to turn to. As an employee, you can turn to your boss but as CEO, you can turn to no one. The buck stops with you. Learn to deal with it. Don't let the emotional pressure break you. Be upbeat and exude confidence even in your lowest of low moments. People will read you better than you think. If they smell vulnerability and weakness, you are over.

Have A Good Game Face.

You are going to need to be the person who not only keeps the company vision and pushes forward in good times but also the person who takes on the pain and stress of failure and hard times for your team. After all, it is going to be difficult for your team to put on a good face and positive outlook if you are outwardly showing all of the difficulties that the business is facing at the time.

Know when to ask for advice from others.

People respect leaders who know that while they are the leader, they are not an expert on everything. Knowing when to refer to one of your team members will not only show respect for them as a worker and an expert in the area that you are asking for help in, but it will also help to show your workers that you are humble and know that input from multiple people is more likely to lead to success than an iron-fisted dictatorship.

Be the strongest link in the chain.

Your business is not only connected to your customers but to your investors or donors. In order to maximize your success, you are going to have to be the best part of that money chain by representing yourself to your investors and your customers as someone who can be trusted, someone who cares, and someone who is overall a superstar at what they do. If your investors see this in you, they may invest more in your business or will keep you in their portfolio from year to year. When your customers see this in you, they will be more willing to buy from you more frequently. Being an ethical businessperson is one of the most attractive things in today's market next to a great product.

Entrepreneurs need to be able to find new ways to do things, even if they've been doing them for years or decades already--and this is something that takes a lot of practice. You need to keep reading books, articles, blogs, etc., in order to stay up on trends as well as new ways of doing things--even if you've been doing something for years already! With all the above appreciated and mastered, you shall be on the path toward turning yourself from a good entrepreneur CEO to a great one.


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