Every entrepreneur needs other entrepreneurs to look up to. Maybe there is someone (or several someones) you have admired for a long time and hoped to emulate their success. Perhaps you have a teacher, mentor, or relative who’s experiences you want to learn from. If you don’t have such a person, it’s wise to find someone you can look to as a business role model. You’ll need guidance when you inevitably make mistakes. Not just any businessperson will do, though—so here are some qualities to look for in role models, whether they are close to you or from afar.
Communication is what makes any business work, both within and without. Entrepreneurs need to be experts at sharing information with their employees, colleagues, and customers. If someone is left out of the loop, it could be inconvenient at best, and disastrous at worst. Communicating with everyone involved in the business prevents the likelihood of mistakes and makes people feel appreciated.
It helps if the people you look up to are experts. You should admire them for other reasons as well, though. Knowledge is essential, but wisdom is even more so. How do your role models handle failure? Are they experienced in other subjects outside of their industries? They should also frequently push themselves outside of their comfort zones. Keep an eye on the company they keep: you can learn a great deal about a person from their friends, so people worth admiring are not hanging out with anyone participating in suspicious or unethical business practices.
There seem to be many books, articles, and other media out there from business people proclaiming the importance of inspiration, perseverance, and confidence. These characteristics are necessary to have, of course, but what about the less glamorous things? Do your role models talk about their failures or only their successes?
Ben Chestnut, the founder of Mail Chimp, says:
“It’s hard. And just when you think it can’t get any worse, it does. There’ll be times when it just keeps getting worse and worse and worse. Meanwhile, everyone else around you is getting better and happier and richer. You’ll feel like the only one who hasn’t figured it out yet… My advice is this: before you decide, look at all those great, successful businesses that inspired you to start your own. They stayed.”
Running a business may be romanticized, but it will not always be fun. It will be stressful, strenuous, and even lonely. To get to all the good parts, you need people to look to who are honest about their struggles and can demonstrate how to navigate them.
A businessperson without compassion should not be in business. You want to emulate people that make money strategically, but they should never exploit other people to do it. Make sure that the individuals you follow treat and pay their employees well, help improve communities rather than gentrify them, mentor other entrepreneurs, listen to other points of view, and use their wealth to do more than hoard it for themselves.
Arrogance and pride will only discourage people from working with you, so your role models should exercise humility. Can they accept responsibility for their mistakes? Do they learn from their errors and openly talk about doing better next time? Are they forgiving and understanding when their employees take missteps? If you hear a constant stream of ego, it might rub off on you. Instead, look to the people who recognize that no one is perfect, even themselves.
They encourage you to follow your own path
It is advantageous to learn from your predecessor’s steps, but you do not want to follow them exactly. You need to follow your own path, and your role models should encourage you to do so. Richard Branson from Virgin Group notes:
“To be successful, you have to be out there, you have to hit the ground running, and if you have a good team around you and more than a fair share of luck, you might make something happen. But you certainly can’t guarantee it just by following someone else’s formula.”
Listen to your role models for advice (platforms like Business Innovators Radio Network are excellent places to do so), but think about how to apply their experiences to your own situation. The best business mentors—whether they know they are mentoring you are not—have enough experience across the board that you can see how their actions worked for them and how you can practice a similar decision-making process.
Being an entrepreneur can be overwhelming, but you have plenty of people who have traveled similar paths before you to learn from. What do you look for in business role models?