Lisa Song Sutton, J.D., is a serial entrepreneur holding ownership interests in several companies in the real estate, retail, and food & beverage sectors. In addition to her professional careers, Ms. Sutton writes about entrepreneurship and is actively involved in her community as a former Miss Nevada US 2014.
All entrepreneurs are familiar with the adage, "Find someone you want to be like and copy them." I have had some fantastic mentors in my life, and I have been pleasantly surprised to find that the wealthiest--both in cash and in assets--are some of the nicest people I've met. There's no coincidence that people who gossip or put others down are unhappy with themselves. I've also noticed that these people are often not as financially successful as those who uphold the practices mentioned below.
Without further ado, here are five life lessons I learned from some of my wealthiest mentors:
Pursue a Lateral Path
One of my mentors pointed out that the general public tends to think in verticals: "I'm climbing up the career ladder," or "I had a setback that knocked me down a notch," but truly successful people think laterally. As one moves along from point A to point B, what else can also be accomplished along the same path? Think of your path as speeding trains, running along side by side. You can hop on and hop off as needed. Instead of starting one company, start two that can share many of the same staff and skill sets. Look around at who you know and leverage your goals based on that. Do you have a sibling or business partner who is pursuing endeavors you have an interest in? Who best to learn from and grow than someone who you already have an in with? Grow congruently and when you encounter an obstacle, consider visualizing the issue as a "decision tree."
Even When You're Tired, Don't Cut Corners
We sometimes wear "busy" as a badge and run the risk of sloppy or incomplete performance. One of my mentors owns an internationally successful jewelry company. The labor of hand-pouring precious metal is a lost art in this day and age of machines and factories. She has a collection that is all hand-poured and the attention to detail is exquisite. As you pour the heated metal layer by layer, if any air gets in, the metal must be re-poured; otherwise the final, finished product could end up defective. Perhaps a defect could be so small that no one would notice, but attention to detail is precise and accurate. As a result, running the risk of a defect isn't an option and the metal is simply re-poured until each layer is perfect.
This story was so poignant for me because it speaks directly to our lives as busy Americans. The lesson here is simple: just do it the right way. Even when you're tired, even when you're mad, and even if no one else is doing it the right way and it's unfair.
Instill Confidence in Others
One of my mentors told me that we all have unlimited currency--and that currency is to do good. The best mark of leadership is leading by example. It's your job to instill confidence in others. Besides those around you (family, friends, business partners, employees etc.), consider broadening your reach. Get engaged and involved in your local community. Volunteer to read to a class during elementary school reading week. Serve dinner to the homeless. Visit a children's hospital or nursing home. The return on your time is immeasurable and you will be able to truly ingratiate philanthropy as part of your lifestyle.
What You Have in the Bank is Not What You're Worth
One of my mentors shared a story with me about how his company wanted to acquire this other company. They made offers that became more grandiose over the course of nearly two years. Regardless of how much money they threw at this company, their CEO kept rejecting it, not even countering. My mentor's CFO threw a tantrum, clearly at wit's end, and made some absurd statement about how if they don't sell, they'll get buried in court because "money is no object." That's when my mentor had an epiphany: This other company isn't choosing not to sell because they don't want to sell. It's just that they want to sell to a buyer who has compassion and understands their company. The other company had some of the same employees for 20-plus years. The CEO wanted to protect his employees from being terminated the moment the company was sold and he knew that in selling to my mentor's company, it was inevitable. They restructured the agreement, and the hiring and retention clause was modified to keep all existing employees. The price was less than the inflated offers that came during the desperate bargaining.
Be a person of principle and reach a level of empathy with the person on the other side of the table. It will result in a win-win every time.
Be Proud to Know Yourself
One of my mentors comes from a long lineage of successful businessmen. He has reminded me over the years to pay attention to how you can help others. One night, he was watching late night TV and a story came on about how a retired NHL player was trying to obtain a very special hockey puck that his daughter inadvertently gave away decades ago. Understanding the nostalgia, my mentor located the puck on eBay, won the bid and gave the puck back to its rightful owner.
Sometimes you don't do things for personal gain or attention, you just do it because it's the right and kind thing to do. On your path to success, there will be people out there who will support you and others who won't, but the most important person to know and rely on is yourself.