Coffee Night: Essential Skills for a Successful Entrepreneur

Coffee Night: Essential Skills for a Successful Entrepreneur

In our February Coffee night series, we invited Clare Paulson, our mentor at MentorUP and owner at Corporate Coaching & Training Services, to shed some light on the Art of Leadership. For the past Coffee Nights we have been focusing on entrepreneurship, and this one in particular is a perfect continuation to discuss common traits among successful entrepreneurs. Here are some takeaways I got from the discussion:

There Are 3 types of Leaders – Which Type Are You?


Just like the three primary colors, there are three types of leaders: title (systemic), teamwork (extrinsic), and treasure (intrinsic). Title leaders, like its name, are leaders whose powers come from their titles. Teamwork leaders, on the other hand, use tactics to build a coherent team. Treasure leaders are those who are leaders by instinct. Everyone wants to be treasure leaders and avoid title leaders; but in fact, everyone is a mix of all three types at different extents. Think about in your life: do you inspire others by doing what you do? Do you gain your authority through the title of your job? Or does your team follow you because they think you are fun to work with? Knowing which type of leader you are gives you a ground start to help you become a better leader.

Become a Better Leader – Credibility is the Key


But how does one become a better leader? The simple answer is – build your credibility.

“Credibility is endorsement by others. It’s used by leaders to get things done.”

Credible leaders (entrepreneurs too) make their actions speak louder than their words – they keep their promises. For that reason, they are well-respected and trusted. Here are some tips I gathered to quickly establish your credibility in life and at work:

1.     Trigger engaging conversations. People love to discuss about things that matter to them. As a leader, suggest a topic (news you just read, conversation you just overheard at lunch) relevant to your project and spark new ideas with your team with an open mind. This way, everyone gets a say in decision-making. Questions like:

 “What is exciting about this new idea?”

“What can we try to make a difference to our results?”

“What methods can we use to improve our productivity?”

will likely to engage members into the conversation. Then, motivate your team by asking everyone what she/he would commit to doing differently to make positive results.  Engaging session like this raises energy and get some practical ideas to solve problems.

2.     Listen first. Most people just want to get their points across. It’s natural. But by doing so, we selectively listen or miss the big picture of the conversation. In Steven Covey’s 7 habits of highly effective people, habit #5 says,

“Seek first to understand, then to be understood.”

Next time when you’re in a conversation, try these in this order: remembering what the speaker is saying (take notes if necessary), asking relevant questions, summarizing the speaker’s points by paraphrasing, and then ending your statement with, “am I understanding you correctly?” If the speaker agrees, proceed with your opinion on what the speaker just said. This will help the conversation move forward faster and, on track.

3.     Value and acknowledge. This reminds me of Dale Carnegie’s How to win friends & influence people:

“Remember that a person’s name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language.”

Good leaders acknowledge people. Successful leaders appreciate people. This doesn’t just mean saying thank you. Other ways such as: challenge your team members with meaningful responsibilities, seeking their advice, or allowing them to challenge you, can also build a strong rapport and gain trust from your team.

4.     Be accountable and responsible. When you say you are going to do something, stick your words to it. When things don’t work, accept responsibility, understand that failure is only temporary and take it as an opportunity to learn. Great leaders operate like that – with high personal accountability. This is the most critical competency a leader can bring on the plate. When team members see that you hold yourself accountable – minimize blaming and complaining, instead creating solutions for the big picture, your credibility builds up instantly.

5.     Keep track record and self-reflect. Everyone must be backed up with some great track records to be more credible. To do so, know the vision/end goal of your organization/project, and work towards it with your team using the four other tips listed above. Note: no one is perfect, and no one can hit the goal every time. But with a comprehensive track record, leaders can trace back to find the cause of the problem and self-reflect:

“What could I have done differently to attain the goal within time and resource?”

“What were my priorities and what fell short?”

Asking yourself these questions will minimize unnecessary surprises in the future, and make yourself more credible with improving track records.

The Gray Area of Skills for Entrepreneurs – Just beware.


Are all entrepreneurs great leaders? Certainly not. There is a gray area of skills that most entrepreneurs lack for them to become great leaders. I phrase it as the “gray area” because in some cases, lacking some of these skills actually facilitate entrepreneurs to become better entrepreneurs. Here are the skills:

1.     Empathy: putting yourself in the shoes of others.

2.     Time management: prioritize and complete tasks within designated time frame.

3.     Planning and organizing: establish courses of action to accomplish a goal.

4.     Analytical problem solving: diagnose and find the root cause of a problem.

I find quite often entrepreneurs lack these skills. They have flight of ideas, they are creative, yet they underestimate the little steps required to reach the big picture. But from another perspective, these ARE the ideas that keep the organization/project alive. They steer the projects; they lead to new opportunities. The creative spirit entrepreneurs can bring to the team is critical for a team survival. To me, these four skills listed are “nice-to-have.” If an entrepreneur compromises her/his instinct of creativity for these skills, then the result is most likely detrimental to the team.

As Vince Lombardi said, “Leaders are made, they are not born. They are made by hard effort, which is the price which all of us must pay to achieve any goal that is worthwhile.” From this coffee night, we touched base on several useful ways to become better leaders. I summarized here only a few tips, but if you are interested, check out the TTI Success Insights Blog, which writes about different skills of personal and professional development.  

About the Author

Ali Chou is the communications team lead at MentorUp Alberta. She enjoys writing on a wide variety of subject matter. Ali loves visual arts, cats, and home-gardening.

Member Profile Highlight - Brian Nogaro

Member Profile Highlight - Brian Nogaro