The rules of business have changed.
These industry changes open up opportunities for entrepreneurs to fill in gaps left by incumbent companies who refuse to innovate or are too slow to change to market needs. I wanted to dive in and see what we entrepreneurs can learn from executives who have been part of successful company transformations.
I was lucky enough to get a chance to interview three successful executives who are responsible for leading digital innovation within their company. Here are four things I learned from them:
1. Listen, Listen, Listen. And when you're done listening, listen more.
As entrepreneurs, we tend to love the solution more than the problem. Listening is part of our DNA.
"Everyone says to listen more, but I've seen time after time, that most leaders are just waiting for an opportunity to speak instead of listening to the people they are talking to. The more you listen, the better you'll be able to actually provide value. I try to put my technology distractions away, make eye contact, listen passionately and only say something once I've heard everything the entrepreneur has to say," says Adam Stanley, Global CIO and Chief Digital Officer of Chicago-based real estate company Cushman & Wakefield.
"In my earliest consulting days, I was so occupied with getting the answer right that I didn't spend much time listening to the problem. I remember specifically spending an entire week on a solution to a problem, only to find out that I was actually solving the wrong problem," Stanley added.
Here are three tips on becoming a better listener as an entrepreneur:
Put away and silent all electronics during a meeting. Yes, that means the vibrate feature as well.
When you find yourself thinking of an answer while someone is talking, think of a question to ask instead.
Instead of taking notes on your phone, take a notebook and pen. It will keep you away from digital distractions.
2. Always be evolving.
You need to always be one step ahead of everyone. And even when you're ahead, you have to bring your team to the same level.
"The most challenging aspect of being a leader is convincing others to change their approach even when nothing appears to be going wrong. Trust is becoming a management differentiator in this digital age. For me, it's all about empowering my team to embrace, learn and test new technologies, " says Andrew Kemmetmueller, Chief Digital Officer at Chicago-based aviation company AAR Corp.
Here's how you adapt to change:
Don't wait on making decisions. Act. Make decisions fast and learn from them. Assume the first decision will not be perfect, and build room to react in the timeline.
Seek advice from mentors who are moving fast. See how they're doing it and how they're adapting.
Change industries or careers. The old advice of moving up the corporate ladder, unfortunately, isn't the same as before.
3. Simplify the problem to get others excited about the solution.
Nevin Zimmermann, former SVP/ CTO of GE Healthcare and GE Capital, now entrepreneur, has an interesting perspective on leadership after working for GE Capital for 15 years.
"Everyone is always excited about the solution, and rarely are people excited about the problem. What I've seen from my experience is that if you can simplify the problem to its core component, you will get simpler, more impactful solutions," says Zimmerman. "Not only will the solution become easier to solve, but it will motivate others to be creative when solving the problem. Simple is hard, but it works."
The best way to simplify a problem is to brainstorm a list of potential problems and keep refining it until it represents the core of what you're working on.
4. Be confident but respect your counterparts.
Many entrepreneurs are naturally confident. They're able to push ideas forward when everyone else would have been stuck behind the wall--and that's a good thing.
"You may have come to the meeting thinking you have the best idea of mankind; however, know that you're most likely going to step on someone else's toes and face disagreement," says Stanley. "The key is to always be confident you have the answer, but always respect the ideas of others and most importantly respect someone who has subject matter expertise. Don't fall in love with the solution. Be confident, but show respect to others who may know better than you."
The best way to build confidence is by granting yourself the ability to be wrong and not be ashamed of coming up with the wrong answer.
For me, becoming confident came after I put in a lot of hard work and saw success from my hard work. Confidence is a combination of experiencing success and failure.
Becoming a successful leader is no small trait. I hope these executives help entrepreneurs succeed as up and coming leaders.