Article originally posted in and nationally syndicated by the American City Business Journals on June 6, 2017.

This is my 150th article – a milestone. I started writing weekly articles on leadership, entrepreneurship and corporate governance for the Philadelphia Business Journal in July 2014. Ten months ago, I was nationally syndicated by PBJ’s parent company American City Business Journals and I now appear in more than 40 Business Journal publications across the U.S.

The adage “you never know where the future will take you” is certainly true.

As a former CEO and director on numerous public and private company as well as nonprofit boards, I write about career and business principles for success. I would like to share eight of these principles with you.

1. The Holy Grail – become the preferred provider to your markets

This is a universal principle that all businesses need to pursue. What is a “preferred provider?” It’s a provider that a customer or client favors when purchasing a product or service versus its competition. A preferred provider has a significant competitive advantage over all other providers, because it is the “go-to” provider in the marketplace.

How does a business become the preferred provider to the markets it serves? It differentiates itself from competitors by excelling in the following six areas: it offers high-quality reliable products and services, is on the forefront of technology, provides a great customer experience, is trustworthy, is committed to the process of continuous improvement and is on a journey to be the best in the world at what it does.

2. Act as if your competition is trying to eat your lunch

Why act this way? Because that’s what competitors will try to do. It may not be across the board, but in a business niche where they feel they can exploit your weakness and their competitive advantage.

Andy Grove, former chairman of Intel Corporation was right when he said, “Only the paranoid survive.”

3. Listen to the brutal facts of reality

This is a critical principle taught by the January 1986 Challenger space shuttle disaster. After being warned by Thiokol engineer Robert Ebeling not to launch the shuttle due to an ambient temperature below the design temperature for the O-ring seals on the solid fuel rocket boosters, NASA launched the shuttle anyway. The O-rings failed, resulting in the catastrophic loss of the lives of seven astronauts.

In response to the warning, one NASA manager is quoted as saying, “I am appalled by your recommendation.” Another NASA manager said, “My God, … when do you want me to launch – next April?” It’s obvious that NASA did not want to hear the brutal facts of reality, resulting in tragedy.

Leaders need to be open to hearing unwelcome news. They need to create an environment that welcomes this input.

4. Always differentiate

Creating a great customer experience differentiates you from your competition. The gold standard in customer experience is Apple, which is able to obtain a price premium for the products they sell partly because of the experience they provide their customers.

Whether you are a student about to enter the workforce or are currently employed, always differentiate yourself by creating value for your company. You will stand out and be considered for additional responsibilities. When it comes time to move on to a new company, the hiring manager will ask what you did that was new and different within your previous organization to move that company forward.

5. Treat your employees as you would like to be treated

Create an environment in which your employees have a feeling of personal ownership in what they do. Give them decision-making authority in their areas of responsibility. Share with them your expectations and hold them accountable for results. Don’t micro-manage.

Act in ways that will encourage employees throughout your organization to talk with you. Walking around and asking how things are going will help break down barriers in communication. Acting like an imperial leader will reduce the likelihood that you will learn of issues that need to be addressed.

Quoting entrepreneur Richard Branson, founder, chairman and CEO of Virgin Group, “The way you treat your employees is the way they will treat your customers.” Wise advice.

6. Successful people have a great outlook on life, and are not afraid to take risks

There are two types of people in this world – those who have a positive attitude, see a world of opportunities and abundance and are not afraid to take risks, and those who have a negative attitude, only see a world of limitations and scarcity and never leave their comfort zone.

The first type of individual builds something enduring and changes the world, whether they are entrepreneurs who start something, or drives change and innovation while working within an existing company. The second type only sees obstacles and why things can’t be done. Which type of individual do you think employers want to hire?

7. Networking is one of the most important things that you can do

Networking is how you will get your next job, or be exposed to an idea that might change one of your paradigms. Always take the opportunity and create the opportunity to meet someone of interest.

You never know how that new contact might benefit you, or how you might benefit that individual. In addition to taking from your network, you also must give back to it by helping others.

8. Ensure effective corporate governance to avoid reputational damage

Within the past year, scandals at Volkswagen, Wells Fargo, Uber and Fox News demonstrated that some boards are not holding CEOs accountable for tone at the top, and organizational culture. Why?

As a director if you are not capable of holding the CEO accountable for tone and culture as well as ethics, or if you are not capable of raising uncomfortable issues as the board’s “lone wolf,” you shouldn’t be a director.

These eight principles create significant competitive advantage for a company or for an individual navigating their career. They are important to your personal success as well as the success of your organization.

Stan Silverman is founder and CEO of Silverman Leadership. He is a speaker, advisor and nationally syndicated writer on leadership, entrepreneurship and corporate governance. Silverman earned a Bachelor of Science degree in chemical engineering and an MBA degree from Drexel University. He is also an alumnus of the Advanced Management Program at the Harvard Business School. He can be reached at Stan@SilvermanLeadership.com.

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