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The One Decision Every Great Entrepreneur Makes

Good founders benefit from vision and courage. But great founders know their success hinges on this one crucial decision.

Business is a lot like sports. While business is rarely a zero-sum game, since success does not have to come at the expense of others, still, some companies win while others lose—and the reasons why aren't always obvious.

Take basketball. As Bill Simmons (the most insightful and entertaining sportswriter on the planet) writes in his outstanding The Book of Basketball:

[The Lakers and Celtics] were loaded with talented players, yes, but that’s not the only reason they won. They won because they liked each other, knew their roles, ignored statistics and valued winning over everything else. They won because their best players sacrificed to make everyone else happy. They won as long as everyone remained on the same page. By that same token, they lost if any of those three factors weren’t in place.

Simmons calls this principle "The Secret" and says (quoting NBA-great Isiah Thomas), “The secret of basketball is that it’s not about basketball.”

The same principle applies to business. Talent is obviously important, but the ability to work together, check egos at the door, and make individual sacrifices when necessary is the only way a team succeeds.

Think about the business teams you’ve seen fail. Rarely was their failure due to a lack of talent or even the absence of a great idea. More often they failed because of personality conflicts, ego clashes, or competing agendas.

So is the secret of business that it’s not about business?

Not quite. Later in the book Simmons describes The Secret to Hall-of-Famer Bill Walton.

It’s not a secret as much as a choice... Look at the forces pushing you to make the other choice, the wrong choice. It’s all about you. It’s all about material acquisitions, physical gratifications, stats and highlights... And you wouldn’t even know otherwise unless you played with the right player or the right coach…. With a truly great coach, it’s not about a diagram, it’s not about a play, it’s not about a practice, it’s the course of time over history. It’s the impact a coach has on the lives around him.

That's why every great leader makes the same decision. Walton believes success at the highest level in basketball comes down to one question: "Can you make the choice that your happiness can come from someone else’s success?"

If you can make that decision you take the most important step towards becoming a great leader.

No entrepreneur has qualities like courage, vision, charisma, adaptability, and decisiveness in equal measure.

But every great entrepreneur does make the same decision—and so can you.

Last updated: Jan 13, 2012

JEFF HADEN | Columnist

Jeff Haden learned much of what he knows about business and technology as he worked his way up in the manufacturing industry. Everything else he picks up from ghostwriting books for some of the smartest leaders he knows in business.

The opinions expressed here by columnists are their own, not those of

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