5 Principals to Building a Successful Business

Posted by | December 29, 2011

Socrates believed that persistence—above trust, genius, or education—was the characteristic that most frequently led to success.

I’ve adhered to that philosophy since I first read it and have applied it to many aspects of my life—both personally and professionally. It helped me navigate my way through Vietnam as a special operations officer in 1969-1970, and it has guided me throughout my professional career as well.

When I left corporate America to apply my experience in business consulting and private equity, Socrates offered me a lens to effectively filter through the many managers and business plans that I was asked to evaluate.

Now, at Safeguard Scientifics, my colleagues and I look for partner companies being led by executives that have shown an unwavering commitment to their vision, and have demonstrated persistence to overcome obstacles in building their own business.

It’s proven to be a very valuable starting point to determine which entrepreneurs we want to partner with. Our successful exits over the past year all began with a dedicated and persistent entrepreneur and visionary.

Nonetheless, while persistence at the top has provided a solid base on which to build a business, we’ve also learned that it takes more to create a successful organization, motivate employees, and lead a company forward. Here are five principles that are critical to building a successful business:

  1. Surround yourself with great people — A good leader understands that they don’t know everything. On your own, you will never be as good as a diverse group of thinkers working collaboratively. By surrounding yourself with the best of the best, you’ll achieve more than you ever could have on your own. So, dig yourself in a foxhole with a team of really good people. Collaborate with them. Find people with diverse skills and use a collaborative style because individually you’re just not that good.
  2. Create collective energy by sharing a vision — I’ve always found that a collaborative effort will yield far better results than anything you could have done alone. Have a sense of mission and goal. High-performance decision making can happen at all levels if the mission and the goals are well articulated. Everyone should know what your goals are, and what their role is in accomplishing those goals. Help them strive for success and give them credit when they do.
  3. Be a catalyst for strategy — Lead by example to empower those great workers you surround yourself with, while providing support and counsel along the way. By promoting a sense of teamwork and focus, you will constantly build others’ motivation to help achieve your company’s goals. Look at your organization as an elite, empowered force with a shared vision and collective energy.
  4. Repeatedly re-define success — Don’t let success become stagnant. The dynamics of the external environment always change. Pop your head up once in a while and check out the changes in the external environment, then alter your positioning based upon what you see. It is important to continually refine and refocus what success means to you and your organization.
  5. Act boldly while executing plans — I’ve found that many times when I feel tentative about something, it impedes results. By acting definitively and approaching the marketplace with a “take no prisoners” attitude, you cement your strategic position and offer your team focus. Clearly define your goals and streamline your actions around your critical success factors.

Success is not a straight line; there will always be surprises and setbacks along the way. No matter what, always move forward. In combat, even if you moved sideways or back, you did it from the notion of ‘how do you move forward?’ Good luck!

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