Reflections on leadership, entrepreneurship and the power of the human spirit

Article originally published in the Philadelphia Business Journal on July 13, 2015

This is the 52nd article I have written on effective leadership over the past year for the Philadelphia Business Journal. I thought I would mark this anniversary by sharing some thoughts on what I have learned.

I was inspired to write on effective leadership by witnessing the drive, creativity and innovative mindset of the students of the Close School of Entrepreneurship at Drexel University and the entrepreneurs we visited on a trip to Silicon Valley and San Francisco in March 2014. Leadership is a critical skill of all entrepreneurs – it can spell the difference between the success and failure of a new venture.

Having built and led a global organization during my career, as well as serving as a director on for-profit and nonprofit boards, I felt that I had something to share about my experiences. Little did I realize that my interactions during the year with so many outstanding people who are leading organizations and building businesses would teach me about the power and drive of the human spirit.

I use a number of sources for my articles. I write about principles of effective leadership based on some 45 years of my own experience and observations working for and leading others as an individual contributor, mid-level manager, business unit executive and CEO, as well as observing other CEOs as a board member. I write about leadership issues that my readers experience at work and ask for my viewpoint. I also comment on CEOs and organizations that are in the news when their actions, whether good or bad, are teachable moments for all leaders. Finally, I interview and write about extraordinary leaders and what they accomplish.

So, what did I learn during the past year? I learned that effective leaders of organizations, whether firmly established or in startup mode, have very similar traits. These leaders and entrepreneurs have a different world view and mindset than other individuals. They see a world of abundance and possibilities, rather than a world of scarcity. They continuously improve on what they have created as well as improve on what competitors offer in the marketplace. They look for opportunities not only to provide customers and clients what they want, but anticipate what they may not yet know they need. Effective leaders and entrepreneurs enjoy meeting new people, and enjoy expanding their personal and professional network, which enriches their lives and benefits the work that they do.

I have written about Donna De Carolis, founding dean of the Close School of Entrepreneurship at Drexel University, the first free-standing degree-granting school for entrepreneurship in the United States. A role model and entrepreneur in her own right, she is teaching her students entrepreneurship and life skills and to get out of their comfort zone and take initiative. She is teaching her students to take a risk and how to de-risk their ideas, and not be afraid of failure. Anyone who has never failed has never done anything.

I interviewed Phil Rinaldi, the visionary CEO of Philadelphia Energy Solutions who saved two irreplaceable oil refineries in South Philadelphia, and 1,000 highly skilled jobs at the refineries paying $100,000 per year, not to mention creating an economic boost to the city by the businesses that support the refineries.

I wrote about my two editors, Julia Casciato and Alexa Josaphouitch, two Drexel English majors who worked at the independent student newspaper, The Triangle. Casciato served as the editor-in-chief for six months. The complexity of leading 43 staff members and publishing the paper out on time each week rivals the challenges of a CEO of any small business. When Casciato took the job leading The Triangle, this 21-year-old was willing to take a risk and step out of her comfort zone, a trait of all successful people.

I interviewed entrepreneur Collin Cavote, a then Drexel undergraduate senior and entrepreneur who founded Biome, a firm whose mission is to improve the quality of indoor air that we breathe. Biome is developing a modular biowall that consists of various types of plants that absorb carbon dioxide and toxins, and give off oxygen. In speaking with Cavote, it is clear that he is pursuing his passion to make a difference – to improve the environment.

I wrote about Dean Mahmoud and Logan Levenson, co-founders of Argyle Interactive, a rapidly growing two-year old website design, digital marketing and search engine optimization firm. I also interviewed Jonathan Shettsline, an undergraduate at Drexel who joined Argyle as a co-op for six months, and now works for the firm part-time as he enters his senior year. Mahmoud, Levenson and Shettsline, who are developing the SilvermanLeadership.com website, all have the mindset of other leaders and entrepreneurs that I have interviewed – with the help of their team, they want to build something enduring that will have an impact on others.

Christopher Wink, founder and co-editor of Technically Philly, an online publication covering the burgeoning entrepreneurial tech community in the Philadelphia region, captured this mindset in my interview with him. He said, “Many people are labeled by their view of whether the glass is half full or half empty. I ask, ‘What did you learn about the glass, let’s get another one.’” Wink has the positive, proactive attitude of successful people who are out to change the world.

My life has been enriched by the human spirit of the extraordinary leaders that I have met and written about, as well as those individuals who, over the years, I have learned from and who have provided experiences that I share with my readers. I am here to make a difference in the lives of others by writing about these people. By doing so, I hope I have helped others learn what it takes to be successful.

Stan Silverman is a writer, speaker and adviser on effective leadership. He is the Leadership Catalyst at Tier 1 Group, a firm of strategists and advisors for preeminent growth. Silverman is vice chairman of the board of Drexel University, a director of Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Southeastern Pennsylvania and former president and CEO of PQ Corp. Follow: @StanSilverman. Connect: Stan@SilvermanLeadership.com. Website: www.SilvermanLeadership

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