As a successful entrepreneur, you’ll inevitably reach a point where you’re responsible for a team. If you’ve been running your ship alone or had no prior leadership experience, the transition to leadership comes with a steep learning curve.
Leadership is a dynamic skill you can always improve upon, becoming a person of influence to move your team successfully toward a common goal.
Here, ten members of Entrepreneurs’ Organization from across Australia share some of the leadership skills they’ve learned on the job, as founders.
FBI-level negotiation skills
Julia Ewert, Founder, Julia Ewert
As a CEO, mastering negotiation skills has been pivotal in my personal and professional growth, significantly contributing to my success. These skills have helped me navigate the complex business landscape, bolstering my relationships with stakeholders and enhancing my leadership abilities.
Few organizations navigate the complex terrain of negotiation as adeptly as the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). Their techniques, grounded in psychological understanding and strategic communication, can provide valuable lessons for leaders in the business world.
One such technique is the Behavioral Change Staircase Model, a method comprising five steps: active listening, empathy, rapport, influence and behavioral change.
Understanding why someone is saying no can provide insight into their reservations and help address them effectively.
Active listening promotes understanding, and empathy allows leaders to see issues from multiple perspectives. Building rapport is the next step, creating trust and open communication. Influence comes naturally after rapport, leading to the final step, behavioral change. Leaders can apply this model to effectively manage conflicts and negotiate successful outcomes.
As a sales strategist and professional negotiator, I’m teaching these advanced techniques, as well as applying them myself.
The FBI also emphasizes the importance of ‘No’ over ‘Yes’. Understanding why someone is saying no can provide insight into their reservations and help address them effectively. This approach can help leaders navigate difficult conversations and achieve win-win outcomes.
I recently applied this technique to stop working with a client whom I genuinely like, but the work was no longer satisfying. By applying this technique, I was able to enhance the relationship by having an honest conversation, and by applying a ‘no’ question, was able to allow them to save face when suggesting we should cease our commercial arrangement.
Learning and applying negotiation skills continues to be an invaluable asset as a CEO. It has improved my conflict management abilities, facilitated successful deals, created a more efficient and focused organization and formed the basis of some incredible professional relationships. These benefits ultimately drive success in a competitive market, making negotiation skills indispensable in the world of business.
Lead authentically and actively take responsibility
Paul Gordon, Founder and CEO, Catalyze APAC
If there’s one skill I’ve learned from starting and growing my business, it’s responsibility. Not the kind of responsibility that comes from position or rank or obligation, but the kind of responsibility that is a choice I take in every moment.
When something happens, whether it be positive or negative, the first thing I ask is, “How can I be responsible for that?” This is not at all the same as, “How am I to blame?”
In fact, choosing to be responsible is my (not-so) secret weapon of leadership. It causes me to immediately stop blaming anyone else, or looking for blame and has me examine authentically what would I or could I have done to not have a negative outcome or thing happen, or what did I intentionally do that had that positive thing happen, so I can learn and double-down.
When we hear the frequently used term authentic leadership, this is what it means to me – choosing to be responsible.
Here’s an example. Let’s imagine a client has complained about a piece of work that one of my team has produced. It would be tempting to blame either the staff member for poor work, or the client for not being clearer on their needs. Instead, I would ask myself, “What conversation could I have had with the client to better understand their needs?” Or, “How could I have better set my staff member up for success?”
The key, and the hard bit, is to look authentically, not just superficially. Sometimes we don’t like what we find. Yes, I actually did intend to make that client look bad, or I did want to make myself look more important.
When we hear the frequently used term authentic leadership, this is what it means to me – choosing to be responsible. And the more I do it, the more others around me take it on, shifting our world from one of blame and upset to one of empowerment and performance.
Develop your emotional intelligence
Ash Bent, Co-Founder, Sketch & Etch
On the journey at Sketch & Etch I have gone from a solopreneur to having around 100 team members distributed around the globe. It’s been a wild ride of ups and downs.
The core leadership skill I’ve acquired during this time is emotional intelligence. Being able to understand and manage the emotions of myself and my team has been critical. For me, I’m focused on being clued in on where someone in my team is at, acknowledging those emotions, and then acting with those in mind so we can come together and deliver on what’s required in the business.
If I’m not in touch with where I am at, I won’t be able to effectively move forward.
This is even more important for myself. If I’m not in touch with where I am at, I won’t be able to effectively move forward and I get stuck. Am I frustrated at the moment? If so, why? Is there truth to this? What can I do about it now to acknowledge and move past this feeling?
Sometimes in business we get thrown curve balls, and things just don’t go to plan. It’s in those moments that this skill can completely change an outcome. We’ve had times where a client calls us and is really angry because an order is delayed. My customer service team is hijacked by this, and the relationship with the client is at risk.
Having the emotional intelligence to acknowledge that the client is upset, your team is hijacked and frustrated, to move forward you need to shift into a solutions-based approach and diffuse a tense situation to mutually benefit everyone involved.
When I need to quickly shift my state, I go to my toolbelt that consists of such tools as journaling, meditation, breath work and affirmations. Now, I’m no expert on the topic, and I continually misread situations, but I’m much better at it now than years ago, and I’m eager to continue my growth in this area.
The power of be/do/have
Ashton Bishop, Founder, Step Change
As entrepreneurs, we love driving results. But it’s easy to overlook who we’re being along the way. This is where the be/do/have principle comes in.
Be/do/have asserts that our state of being influences our actions, affecting our results. Folks make the mistake of believing that the right actions get the desired results. While this is true to some extent, it rarely paints the whole picture. It’s important to understand how our being impacts our actions.
Acting from a place of authenticity sets you up for success.
Say a teenager is apologizing without sincerity. They’re doing the apology, but it doesn’t come across because they aren’t being sorry. See how underlying beliefs, emotions and attitudes make all the difference?
What does this mean for entrepreneurs?
Begin by examining your beliefs and the emotions around your goals. Are limiting beliefs or negative emotions holding you back? How can you neutralize or transform them into empowering beliefs and emotions? For instance, what if you replaced the fear of failure with the excitement of learning and growth?
Next, choose actions that align with your new, empowered state of being. Acting from a place of authenticity sets you up for success. Finally, recognize that genuine transformation takes time and practice. Being intentional about who you’re being improves your actions and results over time.
The greatest entrepreneurs understand that success flows through be/do/have. Success begins when we’re mindful of who we’re being. This then changes how we do things and determines the results that we end up having.
Agile decision-making: Trust your gut
Chloe Dervin, Founder and Managing Director, WebVine
Never has it been more important to make decisions and to make them quickly. It’s one of the most crucial leadership skills I’ve learned and continue to master as a business leader.
The ability to make effective and agile decisions in this fast-paced world can be the difference between success and failure.
The ability to make effective and agile decisions in this fast-paced world can be the difference between success and failure. Here are some practical tips I’ve learned about how CEOs can improve their decision-making skills.
- Gather information: Get as much information as possible in the time you have. This includes data, market research, customer feedback and input from employees and stakeholders. By doing so, you’ll have a more comprehensive understanding of the situation at hand.
- Consider alternatives: Brainstorming other possibilities and their potential outcomes can often lead to a better decision. There may be different options available beyond what has been put forward.
- Analyze risks: Every decision comes with risks, and it’s crucial to identify and assess the risks associated with each option. What risks can be managed, what can you live with?
- Consult with others: Don’t feel the need to make decisions in isolation. It’s always helpful to get different perspectives, so consult with other members of the leadership team, employees, SMEs or external experts.
- Trust your gut: Data and analysis are important, but a CEO should also trust their intuition or gut instincts when making decisions. Your gut instinct is likely based on information or past experience that you haven’t yet articulated, but it’s there, so trust it.
Remember, a decision isn’t set in stone. Once made, you can adjust and change course if need be. That’s the magic of agile decision making.
Active listening and knowing when to shut up
Marcus Willis, Founder and Director, Eight Clients
As Director of Eight Clients, I have learned a valuable leadership skill that I call learning to shut up. While many people may think that leadership is all about giving orders and making decisions, I have found that sometimes the best thing you can do as a leader is to stop talking and listen.
By listening carefully to their ideas and opinions, and taking the time to consider their perspectives, you can build trust and respect with your team.
Learning to shut up involves recognizing that you don’t always have to be the one in charge, and that sometimes the best ideas come from your team members. By listening carefully to their ideas and opinions, and taking the time to consider their perspectives, you can build trust and respect with your team and create a more collaborative and productive work environment.
Learning to shut up is a less commonly discussed skill, but it is one that has been invaluable to me in my role as a leader. By being willing to step back and let others take the lead, I have been able to create a more inclusive and effective team and achieve better outcomes for our company.
Jacob Spencer, CEO and Owner, Mobile Skips
There are many traits and attributes that have helped me on my personal journey as a business leader: persistence, patience and resilience to name a few. But upon reflection, one specific core leadership skill I have acquired in the last few years has been the skill of focusing – choosing what not to do so you can focus on what’s truly important to your customers.
I’m now always thinking of focus first and what to remove from the business in order to make it simpler.
I read a wonderful book four years ago, Uncommon Service. This was the catalyst for me to take bold action in our business and reduce the amount of products and services, focusing only on what our core customer group needed and ignoring everything else.
This focus has meant we have been able to concentrate our efforts in improving a narrower service offering, delivering a much higher level of service much more easily than our competitors. We developed all the systems, processes and communication faster due to this narrow offering, and it resulted in us moving faster than our competitors. The business has grown 400 percent in a highly competitive industry.
I’m now always thinking of focus first and what to remove from the business in order to make it simpler, and therefore easier, to continuously improve the offer.
Tuning into your intuition
Shivani Gupta, CEO, Leadership Engineers
As I started my career as an engineer in a male-dominated world, there were things I wanted to say but didn’t, as I didn’t want to be judged for my lack of expertise coming through.
As an entrepreneur, when everyone in the team is looking to me for my view on a process, person or profit, I’ve learned to tap more into my intuition.
As I progressed in my career, I noticed I started to speak up more. However, there were times when my gut instinct said something to me, but I ignored it, instead relying on my intellect.
As an entrepreneur, when everyone in the team is looking to me for my view on a process, person or profit, I’ve learned to tap more into my intuition. The more I tap into it, the more I learn to trust it. This has helped me so much as I scaled my business.
Here are three examples:
- When interviewing for key positions, trusting my gut on the person rather than their CV at interview.
- When making a decision between options, weighing up options for pros with IQ, then using intuition for the final decision.
- Knowing when to stop working and trusting that your body needs a rest.
Intuition is always there, yet we forget to tap into our powerful leadership skills. Like any muscle, it can be developed.
Tyson Grubb, CEO and Founder, Instrument Choice
The interview was near the end, and I asked the old favorite question of potential new employees: “Have you got any questions for us?” They replied quickly with a great question: “What are your company’s values?” I froze. I didn’t know what to say and was not able to produce anything coherent, stuttering out some random words. It was embarrassing and did not leave a great impression.
The funny thing is, we had clear company values, we talked about them often, but when put on the spot, I couldn’t come up with more than one. All of our values were true and important, but hard to remember.
The team lived by them too, but if asked, they couldn’t remember them either. This wasn’t the first time this had happened. Something had to change.
In the end, repeatable simplicity is the smart move for the team and the company.
I realized that in the end, there was only one main thing that mattered, and all our values fit within that one idea. It would be simple to communicate, easy to remember and a piece of cake to implement: Just be helpful. To our customers, suppliers and each other.
When we do this, the company grows, increases profitability and does good in the world. And when deciding what to do, team members just need to come back to this one principle and they will know the answer.
The biggest leadership lesson from this: I tried to sound smart by generating complicated lists and procedures. But in the end, repeatable simplicity is the smart move for the team and the company.
Engaging in meaningful negotiation
Jahan Kalantar, Founder, Executive Law Group
Working as a criminal defense lawyer, I developed a number of skills and abilities that I use on a daily basis. The most valuable one is how to engage in meaningful negotiation. This is especially important in a high conflict situation.
My role as a criminal defense lawyer is often to argue or plea bargain with authorities in an attempt to properly articulate the right level of criminality for the conduct of my client. This means finding a compromise between the right charge that my client needs to accept, denouncing their conduct, supporting rehabilitation and also respecting the victim of an offense.
All of this takes place in an extremely complex framework where the law, emotions and process need to be followed closely.
The stakes are always different when you are trying to deal with complex value-based conversations.
Negotiation is always challenging, but when you are dealing with matters relating to civil liberties and with an angry opposing counsel and the consequences are substantial, there is a key difference to most negotiations that people will engage in.
The stakes are always different when you are trying to deal with complex value-based conversations. But I have found that through my work, I have developed the ability to focus on the two key questions that matter most in any negotiation.
The first is whether negotiation itself is going to be fruitful or fruitless. Secondly, if we are going to be able to reach a resolution, what should that resolution look like? This is a skill that I never deliberately set out to acquire, but has been incredibly invaluable in allowing me to have the opportunity to properly and thoughtfully improve negotiation across all domains.
Trevor Keen is an Entrepreneurs’ Organization Adelaide member and CEO of Conscious Healthcare SA. Founded in 1987, one of the world’s most exclusive entrepreneur groups, Entrepreneurs’ Organization is a not-for-profit, peer-to-peer support network of more than 17,500 entrepreneurs across 60 countries. In Australia, members comprise more than 700 of the country’s top business minds across five state chapters. For more information visit www.eoaustralia.org