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Recently, I participated as a panelist on the subject of social entrepreneurship. Perhaps 85 college students were in the audience, hoping to absorb some shred of wisdom to catapult them into the entrepreneurial stratosphere sooner than later.

Young Entrepreneurs Want to Know…

The other panelists and I mingled with students afterward, answering questions like how to maximize their study years (build a strong network of relationships with people), when is an ideal time to launch their first business (now, or after you have more real-world experience, or… NOW), whether the game plan should be different if they are female (work harder, be excellenter, otherwise it’s the same game), what they should do if they’ve never had a job yet (go get a job pronto, obviously)…

Now I’m sipping coffee in my favorite downtown Tampa eatery, pondering how to distill my last 15 years of life lessons into sound bites for emerging young professionals brave enough to attempt this winding journey called entrepreneurship.

If you’re new-ish to the business world, and your goal is to be a long-term success (duh, who starts out WANTING to fail?!), here are five critical characteristics you’ve gotta cultivate:

Be resourceful.

Nobody has all the answers, including you. And… you never will.

Knowing how to find the answers is the next best thing. If you’re resourceful enough to figure new things out, you’ll rarely get stuck — because you have the skills to ask the questions to sleuth out the answers to apply to the situation at hand.

Resourceful people get offered chances that others don’t, simply because bosses and team members know they’ll figure it out instead of giving up.

Be relational.

One bright young guy asked, “When you left the non-profit world and transitioned into launching your own company, how did you hustle for new clients?” My answer — “I didn’t.” 
Pause. 
Let them digest that for a beat.

I didn’t have to. Because I had the extraordinary gift of early college mentors who helped me grasp that relationships are vastly important. By the time I launched my own company, I had 15 years invested into a solid network of relationships and contacts. That’s worth gold.

Be reliable.

People hate other flaky people. If you promise you’ll do something, do it. If you say you’ll be somewhere, be there. And when life happens, communicate clearly so people know you value the relationship even though your plans changed. Running late? Send a text. Need an extra day on the project? Drop an email so they can plan for it.

When you screw up, take ownership and make it right. When people know they can rely on you, you become a trusted asset — even though you make mistakes now and then.

Be humble.

Make yourself indispensable.
Think of yourself as totally dispensable.

The moment you start to believe they can’t survive without you, your attitude changes and people can tell. You may well be the backbone of the entire team, but there’s no reason to flaunt it. Stay rooted in humility, without losing confidence.

Be excellent.

Excellence is more than just job performance. Excellence doesn’t mean you’ll never make a mistake. It just means that you never settle for mediocre when you know you can do better. Being excellent also flows into how you work through tough challenges (resourcefulness), how you treat people (relationality), how you manage shifting priorities (reliability), and how you handle your own success (humility).

Be resourceful.
Be relational.
Be reliable.
Be humble.
Be excellent.

In short, if you’re a young entrepreneur or business leader and you dream of long-term success: take purposeful care of your relationships and your reputation.

Combine quality character with business savvy, and clients will clamor to work with you.

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