General Business

7 Timeless Lessons for Today’s Leaders

During a recent conversation with my father, we reminisced about the cosmetic manufacturing business that he and his brother founded and ran in the 1960s through 1980s. I can distinctly remember visiting the factory in New Jersey as a young boy. I recall how efficiently work got done and the spirit that existed throughout the shop. People knew their roles; managers kept the process going; and owners worked closely with management and staff to fulfill client needs.

Our conversation evolved into a discussion about key ways my father and uncle managed their business. By the end of our talk, I realized that their success was built on fundamentals applicable today – Seven Timeless Business Lessons that can guide current corporate owners and leaders.

These Seven Lessons help us to know our people; better understand risk; build a stronger management team; know our market; stay close to clients; make great products even better; and run a more effective operation. Let’s review each of these lessons and how they can guide today’s leaders for greater success.

1. Treat people like gold, and they’ll perform like gold!

Dad knew that “happy employees are a recipe for success.” What makes them happy? Satisfied employees are set up for success. They’re confident about the What, Why and How of their jobs, and they know how to do their jobs effectively. What’s more, satisfied employees know how their work contributes to the company. My father continued: “It’s important to listen to your employees – good ideas can come from everyone.” By encouraging them to share, my father and uncle created a positive work environment, built trust, and learned ways to improve the assembly line.

They also trained people for different roles, allowing for the rotation of tasks. For the employees, it provided a sense of accomplishment, made them resilient to change, kept them engaged, and heightened their job satisfaction. For ownership, it helped to maximize productivity. A win for all.

2. Prepare to fail to prepare to succeed!

Know yourself! Know your motivation! What business risk are you willing to take, with your time, money, and emotion? It is imperative to understand the tradeoffs, that is, gains or losses, of any venture or initiative – and to accept these risks. Know this in advance and be real about it. Don’t take on risk that is antithetical to your genuine self. Knowing your level of risk tolerance is important, whether you are starting a business, growing one, or running a division of a company. Once you know the risk, you are in a better position to make good business decisions. Blind faith is a recipe for failure, so ask yourself: Will I be okay if this does not work out?

3. Build a strong management team

Since great things happen when employees do the right things right, then it’s great managers and leaders who set them up for that success. My father and uncle carefully selected and trained their management team. Management ensured the staff was clear on their roles, how their roles supported company goals, how to work as a team – and how to ensure each employee was fully prepared and ready to be productive. “We realized early on, we could not do everything ourselves, so we built a team,” Dad said. Seems simple, yet too many business owners miss this opportunity and end up taking on too much of the burden, by depending solely on themselves.

4. Know your market inside out

Listen to the market! Too often, business leaders can’t describe current trends evolving in their market – trends that can help and those that can hurt. How well do you know your market? Break your market down into its parts: The broad industry, your particular niche, regulatory changes, innovation, new products, new competitors, partnering opportunities… What opportunities do you see? What threats exists? How can you respond?

One of Dad’s mantras was, “Study your competition carefully. Know what they’re doing and what their actions tell you.” Learning from the successful and failed products or policies of other companies can help you make smart decisions that can shape your success.

5. Stay really close to your clients

Often, your clients and the consumers of your products are the best sources for knowing what is going on in the market. What are they seeing and telling you? Ask them! Also, ask your employees. Salespeople and those close to the market are your best internal source for valued information. Set up a process to learn from them.

My father shared: “If you lose an account, make it your business to know why. There is great learning when something does not go right – take advantage of this learning and adapt quickly.” Since your current clients are the best sources for future growth, ensure you schedule regular check in meetings with them. “Do not take customer satisfaction for granted” he has stated. Meet with key clients at least quarterly, to learn what is going well, what is not, and how you can improve your performance – then set two-way agreements for the next three months. Like many smart people, my father realized that “what got him here, won’t get him there.” Future success is not guaranteed, it’s earned! Staying close to clients is a key way to earn success.

6. Make great products that matter

By knowing your market, you can learn what products and services matter to meet specific needs and create new opportunities. A mistake many companies make is falling too much in love with their products. This is a common issue – a stubbornness not to change what your clients and the market are telling you needs change. Adapt by inspiring your team to tweak or create new products and services. Stay relevant and ahead of the competition by innovating and adjusting quickly. This requires challenging your own assumptions and approaches. Dad said, “The good thinking that led to success so far, may no longer work moving forward; so, keep reevaluating your market, products, people and company.”

7. Optimism does not work in the absence of preparation

This is a direct quote from Dad: “Our diligent planning set us up for success.” For their business, smart planning included clarity and alignment of their business goals and intentions. Together, my father and uncle were clear on what they wanted to achieve today and in five years. Their unified vision led to a clearly defined business plan, which helped the management team provide the right direction for the staff. From this, employees were trained on their tasks and how to support each other as a team. No stone was left unturned. Like a winning sports team, preparation matters for corporations to grow, sustainably. “In the long-run, proper planning, informed decision-making, and innovation helps ensure long-term success,” he said.

The Seven Timeless Business Lessons reviewed here are reminders of the core disciplines that have made my father and uncle successful for nearly two decades – and can guide your company’s success and growth as well. Let’s thank business owners and leaders, like my dad and uncle, for showing us the way. Let’s continue to learn from them.

About the Author

Larry Prince is the CEO of PrinceLeadership®, a New Jersey-based business consultancy that works with small and middle market companies to create growth and sustainability. Contact: Mobile: 973.670.6304 [email protected]

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