Leadership is a skill that all young entrepreneurs need in their toolboxes. Why is leadership so important? Stephen Covey, business mogul and author of “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People,” says that:
“Leadership…comes from following universal and timeless principles like honesty, integrity, and treating people with respect.”
In your entrepreneurial toolbox, there are several skills you need to succeed. They include:
- Intelligence – learning what you need to know
- Creativity – thinking outside the box
- Drive – the motivation to keep going
- Energy – the ability to keep going
But none of those other tools will work if you don’t have leadership skills. Entrepreneurs have to deal with people all the time: investors, customers, and peers, to name a few. Successful entrepreneurs will utilize strong leadership skills to make friends, influence investors, make deals, and attract customers.
While some people are natural-born leaders, plenty of others learn this valuable skill over time. Here are a few ways you can spark the leader within yourself!
1. BE A GOOD LISTENER
The #1 quality you should develop as a leader? Be a good listener. When talking with someone, ask yourself:
- What do they need?
- What are they trying to tell me?
- How do they want me to respond?
- What can I do to help?
Good listeners ask a lot of questions. They offer suggestions. They pay attention to what the other person is actually saying. They’re also respectful of other people’s requests. If someone tells you not to contact them after 8 pm, that’s not an invitation to show them how to turn their ringer off at night. If they prefer to talk over the phone instead of emailing, then make sure you use the phone as your primary method of communication.
Young entrepreneurs who want to be taken seriously in business know that they still have much to learn and are prepared to be good listeners.
2. LOOK AT THOSE WHO INSPIRE YOU
Whether they are parents, teachers, celebrities, or the top 1% of today’s entrepreneurs, look at the leaders you admire. What qualities do they use to inspire others? What is their style of leadership?
Why do people follow them?
Most schools have a popular, or favorite, teacher that all the students love. What is it about them that attracts such a following? Try to make a list of the qualities you see in that teacher that makes them such a strong leader. Are they funny? Approachable? Do they teach in new and exciting ways? For young entrepreneurs especially, emulating someone you admire is a great way to start building leadership skills.
3. FOLLOW THROUGH
Few people enjoy feeling let down by the people they count on. Constantly canceled appointments, broken dates, friends who always seem to flake out on you.
Strong leaders make promises they know they can keep. And then they keep them.
Read that first part again: make promises you know you can keep. Don’t promise investors a million dollars in sales if that’s not realistic. (And it probably isn’t.) If you can’t answer someone’s question, don’t be afraid to say that you don’t know, but you’ll find out. And then take the time to find out.
Keep your promises. Meet your deadlines. Stick to your goals. Answer your communications promptly. Show everyone around you that while you may be a young entrepreneur, you’re also a serious entrepreneur.
4. STAY POSITIVE
This one can be tough. When the homework piles up, you have a thousand projects due tomorrow, your team needs you at practice, and your friends are starting to complain that they forgot what you look like, it can feel like even more work to maintain a positive attitude.
Thankfully, staying positive doesn’t mean plastering a smile on your face and acting like everything is great all the time. Instead, it means trying to put a more positive spin on whatever’s happening around you. Try replacing certain negative terms with positive ones:
- Fail = starting fresh
- Problem = challenge
- Overwhelmed = fully charged
- Can’t = there must be another way
- Too hard = a little more effort
You’ll be amazed at what a simple change of vocabulary can do for your attitude! And when you put a positive spin on things, the people around you will feel the shift in energy, too. That shift is what makes a good leader.
5. STEP OUTSIDE YOUR COMFORT ZONE
We know that’s a cliché, but it’s there for a reason. No one ever succeeded by playing it safe and comfortable.
When it comes to trying new things, don’t automatically count yourself out. Just because you had trouble learning French doesn’t mean you can’t try to learn Mandarin. If you didn’t make the softball team, you might still make the lacrosse team.
There are many benefits to stepping outside of your comfort zone and trying new things. Among those benefits? Proving to yourself that you can do it. And that will inspire others around you. That’s how hopeful young entrepreneurs become successful leaders.
6. HAVE AN HONEST CONVERSATION WITH YOURSELF
Nobody is perfect. That’s just a fact. And while we here at the Kantner Foundation recognize that you are a truly bright and motivated young entrepreneur, you must have an honest conversation with yourself. You already know what you’re good at, but what needs work? What do you need help with? These things can be concrete areas of improvement, like needing help with your calculus homework or requiring extra time to take standardized tests. They can also be less solid qualities, like learning to be more patient or keeping your temper in check.
Once you recognize your weaknesses, you can learn how to use them to your advantage. Ask for help. Admit your mistakes. Work on improving yourself. Nobody is perfect, but anyone can consistently practice self-improvement. And that, alone, is a quality that others will truly admire in you.
Leadership is a life skill that will follow you to college and beyond. Developing it will take time, but we promise it’s worth it!
Click here to learn how the Kantner Foundation helps young entrepreneurs by offering college scholarships to Florida high school students.