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7 Leadership Lessons to Help Your Business Win

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Over all my years starting, building, and running businesses, I’ve learned a lot. When something worked, I learned from it. If something didn’t work, I learned from that, too. From all that experience, I have put together a list of 7 leadership lessons for business people. They reflect my values, as well as how I approach my companies today. Put them to work in your business – you won’t regret it!

1. The mission of business is to help people.

Everything starts with your mission. What is your purpose in business? What is it you are trying to accomplish?

A lot of leaders trip up right off the bat, with this very first principle. “The mission of business is to make money!” they’ll say.

Wrong!

When your mission is just to make money, then you’ll compromise your principles. You’ll start doing things that might generate dollars in the short term but set you on the road to failure. 

On the other hand, if your mission is to help people, then your focus will be on providing value. Leaders should be thinking about how to meet people’s needs and solve problems. That’s exactly the mindset you need if you’re going to survive in a world that’s constantly changing!

And here’s the best news: if you are relentlessly focused on helping people, solving problems, and providing value…the money will come! If you’re offering something people want, then they will pay you for it. The money is a byproduct of your mission; it should not be the mission itself.

2. People have to talk to people.

My next rule for business leaders comes from this: every idea I’ve ever had has come from something I’ve heard, something I’ve read, or something I’ve seen. Truly original ideas – ideas that someone comes up with completely on their own – are pretty rare if they exist at all. They are not a requirement for a successful business.

Many of the best ideas really come from combining other ideas, building on existing ideas, and applying ideas from one industry into another. That means the best thing leaders can do is constantly put themselves in a position to learn!

I love talking to people in all different walks of life. A lot of people only talk to people who are like themselves, but you will learn a lot more when you open yourself up. Talk about business with people in completely different industries. Talk with people in different parts of the world. Talk with people from different backgrounds. Talk with people who are young and just getting started alongside people who’ve been in the business for decades. 

You never know where you might get the inspiration for your next great idea – so don’t limit your options on where that inspiration could come from!

3. There are no silver bullets.

One of the biggest red flags when I’m in a business setting is hearing someone describe what I consider a “silver bullet.” In fact, I think one of the biggest reasons leaders fail is when they spend all their time chasing silver bullets. To put it plainly, if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. 

I’m sorry to say it, but there is no easy way to the top. No one is holding the secret formula for success without work. The only way to make it to the top of the ladder is to climb there, one rung at a time. If there were a way to start at the top of the ladder, everyone would do it!

If you are going to succeed it will come from your passion, your commitment, your willingness to work, and your willingness to do the little things right every time. Any silver bullet that promises otherwise is a mistake – as you’ll inevitably find out after wasting a lot of time, money, and effort on the wrong things.

4. Reinvent yourself every day.

We all get comfortable doing things the way we’ve always done them. That makes it tempting to resist change and stick to what we know. But that’s a mistake. Don’t get caught doing the same old things just because they’re easier; look for new ways to do things and improve!

Back in my NFL days, people would ask me about the changes we would make to our offense from year to year. I always had to set them straight. We couldn’t afford to change our offense from year to year; that’s an eternity in professional football! We were changing our offense from game to game, quarter to quarter, and even play to play!

Why? Because we had to. Once we succeeded, the defense adjusted to stop whatever we were doing, which forced us to find a new way to succeed. Business is the same. Commit to your fundamental mission, but be open to change the way you do things for the better. Always think of ways to adjust what you do to an even better way of achieving your mission. Don’t be afraid to reinvent yourself, every day.

5. Have a sense of desperation. 

A successful leader has to think and act with the passion of a challenger. When you look at the business landscape, it’s amazing how quickly things change. Yesterday’s giants become obsolete, today’s challengers rise to become tomorrow’s giants, and the cycle keeps on repeating.

You get to the top with a sense of desperation that elevates your discipline and speed to act. But don’t make the mistake of losing your edge once you achieve some level of success. Hold onto the mindset that helped you get there.

Every morning, I wake up with a little bit of fear. Maybe I won’t be good enough or smart enough this time. I create a sense of urgency for myself. That edge gives me what I need to see more clearly and be the leader my companies need.

6. Learn more from your failures than from your successes.

As a quarterback, there was nothing that compared to the high I got after winning a game. We all celebrated as a team and moved on to the next week. It felt great.

But when we lost, I learned. I analyzed my performance. I went through every single play, looking for what I could do differently the next time I was in the same situation. That kind of intense study led to improvements in my game, and helped to improve not only myself, but my entire team.

I’ve found that business is much the same. Winning and success feel great. But we learn more when we fail. Failure and losing motivate us to make the changes that will help us more in the long run. It’s not really a failure unless you give up, so always learn from failure to do better the next time.

7. Nothing takes the place of hard work.

If you’re not willing to put in the work, you will not be rewarded with success. It’s as simple as that. 

I love to work. From when I was a kid with a paper route in Washington, D.C., all the way to today, I have found such deep passion in showing up every day and giving my all. It’s fun!

As a leader, you have to be willing to put your hands in the soil and do the work. It’s hard. It will challenge you and push you and be on your mind day and night. But it’s worth it! When you are working hard, it helps keep you fully engaged and passionate about what you’re doing, and, even better, it sets a powerful example for everyone on your team. 

Walking the walk will be invaluable for keeping everyone in your company on-mission, fired up, and ready to win!

Published: April 16, 2024
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Fran Tarkenton

Fran Tarkenton is an entrepreneur and NFL Hall of Famer, and the founder of Tarkenton Companies. Successfully starting and running more than 20 companies spanning a wide range of industries, Fran is a passionate advocate for small business owners and entrepreneurs. The product of all of Fran’s experiences is Tarkenton, which has partnered with major enterprises for more than two decades, bringing a combination of strategic thinking, operational excellence, and fast-paced action to complex business problems. Fran is the driving force between GoSmallBiz.com, Tarkenton Financial, and Tarkenton Private Capital.

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