How Real Leaders Make It Big

How Real Leaders Make It Big

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Regardless of your definition of success, you wouldn’t read this if you didn’t want to get there one day. We all do. The question is, how?

Make no mistake, this is not to say that it is a rhetorical or even provocative question. I want to answer it directly. But first, let’s make sure we ask the right question. Maybe instead of “how” we should ask “what?”

“What” is what you are passionate about. What makes your juice flow? What inspires you, motivates you, inspires you? If you don’t know what it is yet, it’s cool. We’ve all been there. But the only way to find it is to go out into the real world and work, play and learn. You know, do stuff. Gain experience.

I found my “what” in the high-tech industry. I was certainly not alone. The same has been the case for many successful entrepreneurs and executives like Steve Jobs, Oracle president Larry Ellison and LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner, to name a few. But once arrived, the real question is how? How did they get to the top?

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And therein lies the catch. “How?” Is a very delicate question. The answer is certainly not the same for everyone, but when you break it down, there are really only a handful of ways to make it great … or at least it would seem.

Do your own thing.

Every big business on earth was founded by someone. Richard Branson of Virgin, Fred Smith of FedEx, John Mackey of Whole Foods – it’s a long, long list. I chose these three because, although their passions could not have been more different, they each found a problem they wanted to solve and went to look for it.

Branson wanted cheaper records, so he sold records at a discount by mail order. Mackey wanted healthier food, so he opened a health food store. Smith wanted shipments to be faster and more efficient, so he modeled FedEx to look like a clearing house, except with planes and trucks.

The “how” in this case is to find a problem that needs to be solved – one that you personally want to solve in a big way – find a solution, and then go there without stopping to look back.

Go up the corporate ladder.

Everyone may want to be successful alone these days, but if I were to guess, I would say that at least as many people have very successful and fulfilling careers in the corporate world as in business. This is the path Weiner has taken and now he runs LinkedIn. Not a bad result, if you ask me.

In fact, I didn’t have a passion right out of school, and since my parents were about as far from the risk takers as possible, entrepreneurship was not in my blood. So I climbed the corporate ladder, became a senior manager, which gave me the knowledge and experience I needed to spend the second half of my career as a consultant and writer.

The “how” in this sense excels in your role, takes on more and more responsibility and helps make your business the best at what it does. It paid off for Weiner, for me, and for millions of others.

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Piggyback on a startup or two.

One of the biggest problems I see in our culture is the tendency to see everything in black and white. Nothing is ever really black or white. The real world is entirely made up of shades of gray. And making it big in your career is no exception.

Although you often hear the career question formulated as something like, “Do you want to be your own boss or spend your whole life working for the man in a corporate giant?” do not your only two choices.

Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer joined Google after she left school. Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak worked for founder Nolan Bushnell at Atari. In fact, the three founders of Apple worked on it. I worked for two startups that went public, as well as for two small public companies.

When you’re looking for the right startup or small business to join, you don’t just want a high-potential business, you want one that needs what you bring to the party. This way you can be a big fish in a small pond.

The fact is that there are many ways to make it big. The last thing you want to do is limit your potential by cutting yourself off from a world of opportunity. My career has been a combination of the three methods; you can even mix and match.

Look at it this way. Life is long. Think of your career as a marathon, not a sprint. Take it one step at a time and always put your best foot forward. It is How? ‘Or’ What You do it.

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