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What Makes GREAT Entrepreneurs And CEOs?

   By: Ken Lizotte

What separates the average entrepreneur/CEO from the Truly Great? Why do we recognize such names as Jack Welch, Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos but not many more?

There are definite lessons one can learn from dissecting the actions and attitudes of fabulously successful leaders, even if many of them will not be apparent at first glance. Fortunately, such features can be both identified and replicated, and honed and mastered, if only one is willing to work at it and commit the time.

Obviously the mix must include a great product (or service). A company's product must be relevant enough to fill some demand that is already there, or that COULD be out there. Wasn't Windows a product needing to happen when Bill Gates came along to offer it to us? Hasn't given birth to a product/service model that we never previously realized we even needed (until Jeff Bezos brought it to life)? There's mystery and luck here of course, why one product works while another never sees daylight. But somehow, in some cloudy way, product magic as an ingredient has got to be there.

Beyond that, what can one humble soul do? How can entrepreneurs/CEOs take specific actions to keep everything moving forward, leveraging opportunities and maximizing their products' chances? Many business observers agree on four points in particular that can help out:

1) Emphasize relationships not “things.” Ultimately, great success comes down to how one handles people, experts say. Dismissing the impact of relationships is therefore unacceptable.

In his book PowerSkills: Building Top-Level Relationships for Bottom-Line Results (Nimbus Press), leadership expert Jim Masciarelli lists five people-based skills he insists hold the keys to breakthrough leading. They are (a) “positioning” your company and/or yourself in the marketplace, (b) good “hunting” (business development), (c) “coaching” subordinates and peers, (d) “leading” on issues and objectives, and (e) “farming” (or cultivating relationships).

These “power skills,” he explains, enable entrepreneurs and top executives to leverage relationships so as to drive meaningful and measurable results. “Once a positive ‘Relationship Equation' has been firmly set in place,” Masciarelli writes, “great benefits await all parties.”

2) Treat your customers like partners. Traditionally we think of our customers as adversaries to be won over, great force fields of resistance to be pulled back again and again, or, to use the vernacular, “sold.” Yet the Truly Greats view their customers as integral parts of a holistic family. The late Sam Walton certainly saw it that way as proven by the legacy of his perspective which continues to live on. Just take a look at Wal-Mart ‘s TV commercials to see what I mean.

Sales consultant Dan MacDonald, Systematic Sales Solutions (Hollis NH) puts it this way: “Great company leaders focus on the customer's needs BEYOND products and services. The idea is to set your sights on making your customers successful.”

3) Treat your employees like partners. Truly great leadership of a firm requires the ability to partner with your employees too, viewing workers as equals rather than underlings. Tom Schinkel, an international management consultant based in Charlestown MA, who has worked with CEOs all over the world, notices that the most effective leaders “show respect for, and trust in, those on the frontline, the ones who stick their necks out every day for the company.” The greatest leaders he says practice this every day.

Executive coach Sharon Gazda, Edizen Consulting (Springfield MA) backs up Schinkel's observations with a story about Jack Welch's determination to make sure GE's workers feel recognized and valued. “Every day while CEO there he wrote personal notes to select employees,” she recounts, “a to-do task he routinely inserted in his daily calendar. Then, when writing a congratulatory note, he would do more than dash off a quick ‘Good job!' by detailing specific whats and whys of the individual's contribution to the company.”

Gazda adds that studies show “people leave their bosses not their companies, especially when they believe their boss doesn't know or care what they are doing.” Welch wanted his employees to never feel this way.

4) Promote your business and its products by becoming a “thought leader.” The Truly Great do not leave marketing to a marketing department but inject themselves into the heart of the process. Via books and articles, keynote speeches, media interviews, involvement with industry groups, they generate excitement and industry debate, personalizing their company, widening their products' visibility and extending potential market share.

Desh Deshpande, chairman of Sycamore Networks, is a frequent face at high-tech conferences, trade shows and other business events. He believes that staying visible is a key to effective leadership, including new insights he can while mingling.

The capacity to reach beyond traditional management and marketing approaches is available to us all. Orient yourself to people, remove barriers to your constituencies (both customers and employees) and step out to embrace the world. When you do, great leaps will be had, with extraordinary results for you and your organization sure to follow.

Ken Lizotte CMC is Chief Imaginative Officer (CIO) of emerson consulting group inc. (Concord, MA), which transforms consultants, law firms, executives and companies into “thoughtleaders.” This article is an excerpt from his newest book "Beyond Reason: Questioning Assumptions of Everyday Life".

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