The world is full of business courses, but entrepreneurs regularly tell SmartCompany and StartupSmart that it’s the school of experience, rather than a top tier university, that has secured them the best chance at business success.
Beyond skills in planning, strategy and presentations, business founders say cultivating qualities that help them deal with people has been invaluable to their company’s growth.
Research into leadership potential supports the idea that softer skills like this have as much, if not more, importance than the ability to read a spreadsheet.
For example, the directors of the organisational training consultancy, the Potential Project, outlined earlier this month that their research into leadership reveals it’s self-awareness, rather than strong strategic insight, which helps leaders get the best outcomes for their businesses.
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Closer to home, our Smart50 cohort from 2017 reported that building the right team and keeping them happy was often more important than coming up with a great idea in the first place.
With this in mind, what qualities should you be working on today to ensure your business benefits in the future?
We asked five Australian business founders to nominate an unexpected quality they have had to cultivate for success and why these are so important.
Aimee Marks | Founder, TOM Organic
Commitment to your values
“This can be excruciating and challenging when all odds are against you or you’re in a difficult situation. People will buy into this [your business] story and these values and be loyal forever, but if they sniff a sense of inconsistency between the theoretical concept of values and the practical execution of values, it is a difficult place to come back from.
“Every single business decision I have ever made, I make knowing there is always a conscience sitting on my shoulder.
“This may have meant double the time and investment, but it’s working and we have the highest loyalty within our categories in stores. When there are quick wins in front of you and you are playing the long game. For example, negotiating a new account in order to achieve volume (in the early days) proved to be one of the biggest business mistakes as it was with a retailer that did not share the same vision or values and therefore failed.”
Jarahad Valeri | Co-founder, MOUS Fitness
“I know that it may seem like an obvious one, but this is something that I have found to be far more important than many people first anticipate.
“Versatility and the ability to adapt to various functions, activities, situations, markets, and tasks is a quality that has proven to be of the utmost value from day one with co-founding MOUS. As a founder, especially in the early days, you are required to take on tasks that you may not have sufficient skills in, or face situations that you may not have come across previously. These can be hard decisions that you need to approach with an open mind and a willingness to adapt to on the fly!
“It’s my belief that being versatile and flexible when faced with an opposing view, challenge or a change in direction when it comes to your business is a necessary skill, which results in you becoming more resourceful and multifaceted. To not being open to adaptability and change in circumstance can lead to a huge loss of opportunity; for example, not being able to adjust to a new market shift. This will ultimately lead to your own downfall.”
Jane Lu | Founder, Showpo
“Empathy — compassion for customers and staff — helps you approach customer service and staff issues with understanding and support. It’s also about balancing that with the need to do what’s best for the company.”
Peter Colbert | Founder, Inamo
Focusing on one thing
“The ability to stay focussed on the mission/strategy when opportunities come to you as you scale or get more recognised. Learn to say no.
“It’s inherent in entrepreneurs to want to jump at opportunities but each day you are not focussed is a day you’re giving your competition the ability to catch and pass you. There is only so much bandwidth everyone has to execute well.”
Marita Cheng | Founder, Robogals
“Stoicism. Many things happen on a day to day basis — keeping your head clear and staying level-headed is key to making good decisions.”