Ask people what qualities, abilities, and habits successful business leaders have and most of the responses you get would likely include thoughts about hustle, drive, hard work, intelligence, and focus. These are all admirable, and stereotypes usually exist for a reason, but the common wisdom about success is often tilted toward what is loud, flashy, and noticeable, because that’s what sells books, TV shows, and magazines. Don’t be fooled, many of the most successful people in business defy the stereotypes. Develop these skills, attributes, and habits and you’ll find yourself more successful not just in business, but in life.
Here are five counterintuitive ways to succeed in business:
1. Work less
I ran my business for four years without getting a dime out of it. During the same time I piled up hundreds of thousands of dollars of debt. I then made one change that resulted in me getting paid a decent salary and paying off $10,000 to $20,000 per month in debt. What was it that made the difference? I made a rule to quit work at 5 pm and not work weekends. You might think my success was the result of all the hard work I had put in for those four years, but if I hadn’t started working less I still wouldn’t be getting paid.
When I had no limit to the hours I worked I made poor decisions about how to use my time. After all, I had all the time in the world to figure things out, right? Once I created an artificial limit for my time, I had to prioritize. I had to figure out what was worth my time and what wasn’t, because there wasn’t time to do it all like there was before. Making better decisions meant I could do more with 40 hours than I previously did with 90.
It’s not just me. A study at Stanford University discovered that people who work 70 hours per week aren’t any more productive than those who work just 55 hour per week. Work less by creating boundaries for your time and watch your productivity soar.
2. Be humble
Great business leaders are egocentric, driven, and have a no-holds barred attitude, right? The truth is almost the opposite. In his business classic Good to Great author Jim Collins found that “Level 5 leaders,” or those leaders who drove the most value for their companies, blended humility, will, and ferocious resolve. They had a tendency to give credit to others while assigning blame to themselves.
Humility doesn’t mean putting yourself down and thinking you’re a terrible person, it means seeing things as they truly are, without filters. The more accurate your observations are, the better equipped you are to make intelligent choices. When you drop the ego, you become teachable, which means you can increase your intelligence and ability to succeed.
“Selflessness is humility. Humility and freedom go hand in hand. Only a humble person can be free.” – Jeff Wilson
3. Develop empathy
I’m wrapping up work on my book Chief Marketing Officers at Work: How Top Marketers Build Customer Loyalty. The book contains 30 interviews with CMOs from brands like Target, PayPal, Spotify, The Home Depot, and GE. As I’ve asked these successful marketers what they look for in those they hire, the word “empathy” has come up over and over again.
Successful marketers have a keen understanding of their customers that helps them craft marketing campaigns that work. The CMO role is increasingly a stepping stone toward becoming CEO. Could empathy be just as important for all executives as it is for the marketing department?
4. Put exercise above career
Exercise clears the mind, much like meditation, allowing you think more clearly. It helps you feel better about yourself, boosting your self confidence. Excellence in one area of life impacts all other areas. If you’re not taking care of your body and mind you’re hurting your ability to be successful in every other part of your life.
Yes, it’s hard for a success-driven individual to make time to exercise. That’s why exercise needs to come first. Don’t have time? See “Work less” above.
5. Be generous
In their best selling book, The Go-Giver: A Little Story About a Powerful Business Idea, authors Bob Burg and John David Mann use a fictional story to illustrate a true principle–those who give a lot of value, get a lot in return. They share five “laws” for achieving success in business:
- Value: Your worth, professionally speaking, is determined by how much more you give in value than what you take in payment.
- Compensation: How much you get paid is a result of how many people you serve and how well you serve them.
- Influence: Your influence grows as you place other people’s needs first.
- Authenticity: It’s difficult to provide great value if you have no passion for your work. Successful people are genuinely excited about what they do, get excited about what they do, or they find something else to do. They don’t fake it.
- Receptivity: If you don’t know how to comfortably receive from others, you don’t understand how to give value effectively.
“The value of a man resides in what he gives and not in what he is capable of receiving.” —Albert Einstein
The real key of the book is to not focus on money or your own success. Instead, focus on others and the value you can provide to them. If you provide great value, money and success will take care of themselves. If you don’t believe it, try it for a month and see what happens.