3 Character Traits of Successful Business Leaders

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Perhaps there are a few people who can succeed in business quickly, but I’m not one of them. It took me three months to get my first client when I went out on my own and eleven months before things really started taking off. I had self-doubt and felt discouraged, though I never showed it outwardly. If I gave up and accepted a full-time job, which several people offered me, it would have guaranteed my failure at creating two businesses and taking on a formative role in the Fractional Leadership industry.

Boy, am I glad I didn’t give up. I learned that three character traits contributed most to my business success:

  1. Disciplined persistence
  2. A help-first approach to all interactions, and
  3. Authenticity

With disciplined persistence, I created measurables for myself and set minimum numbers of email and (custom-written) LinkedIn reach-outs, calls, and presentations each week, month, and quarter. I almost never went below these quotas. These efforts in the long run have a cumulative effect. I wish there was a shortcut, but I haven’t found one that works.

Next, I recognized that nobody wants to be sold to. You have to approach every email, call, and meeting with a help-first approach. Don’t wait for people to give you a lead or make an introduction before you help them. As the saying goes, people only care how much you know after they know how much you care. Here are a few simple ways to do this:

  • In every email, share an article or resource you know from a prior conversation the person can really use or needs.
  • Take notes about the people you speak with on your calls and refer to those notes before you send an email or have your next meeting with them. Ask about their spouse, kids, hobby, or cause the next time you interact with them.
  • Refer other people to them whenever it’s helpful, even if it has nothing to do with what you do. Send them a great florist, app recommendation, favorite movie, show, or connect them with a competitor of yours if they’re a better fit for the person.

Keep this approach up and you’ll build up social capital, your reputation, and people will become more likely to think of you when they or their friends actually do need someone with your experience.

Finally, being authentic can go a long way to developing business relationships. Some people feel they succeed by ensuring that every phrase they utter, every conversation they have, and every podcast interview they do is highly engineered to make them look maximally professional, successful, smooth, and polished. I’m sure that this is one approach, but to me, such people feel fake, slick, and untrustworthy.

I’m not great at posturing and creating highly calculated interactions with people anyway, so my approach is to speak honestly. I openly mention my areas of weakness or past mistakes when it comes up in conversation because it tells people that I am what they see. They don’t have to wonder what I’m concealing because they see I’m not trying to carefully maintain the perfect veneer.

By being authentic with people, they respect and trust me more because they’re not wondering who or what I really am and don’t feel like I’m trying to sell them something if it’s not right for them.

If you’re thinking of starting a business, knowing the positive impact these three traits ahead of time can help give you peace of mind and confidence from the start. (For other insights I believe help makes a successful business and leaders in my blog “The Most Underestimated Aspect of a Successful Company.”)

Perfection Can Hold You Back

As a business owner, insisting on perfection 100 percent of the time won’t get you results. In my experience as a Fractional Leader, the most common mistake I see an entrepreneur or organization’s leadership commit is waiting until everything is “perfect” before launching a new business, product, service, or system.

The Pareto Principle, also called the “80% Rule,” states that most of the time, you get 80 percent of your results from 20 percent of your effort. After your first main push toward creating your new business or product, you’ll find yourself 80 percent of the way toward completion. You then spend 80% of your effort on the remaining 20 percent of the results you need. And your efforts get less and less productive the further into the remaining 20 percent you get. Your efforts have an exponentially diminishing rate of return.

Get yourself most of the way there toward your minimum viable product (MVP), and then just launch it. You’d continue improving and iterating after release anyway, and your efforts at building “perfection” before testing your product or service against the reality of the real world are almost certainly not “perfect” anyway.

Most of the time, the right path is “launch and learn.”

If you can model your business approach around being persistent, helping first and being authentic while at the same time not letting a mindset that seeks perfection slow your progress down, you’re well on the road to success.

The blog is comprised of modified excerpts from Authority Magazine‘s December 2021 article, “Ben Wolf of Fractional Leadership: 5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Began Leading My Company

Ben Wolf Author
Ben Wolf, founder and CEO of Fractional Leadership, has been on both sides of the Fractional Leader search process.
As a leader in companies where he served as Fractional Integrator (outsourced COO), he has searched for and found multiple Fractional Leaders for clients. And as a Fractional Integrator, he has gone through many cycles looking for new clients at the successful conclusion of each engagement.
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2 Comments

  • Great words of wisdom, I have it printed out and will evaluate all I do on the principles you laid out, thank you

  • Great article Ben! I printed it out to use your three points as a reminder.

    Blessings,

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