I’ve read a lot of articles lately on what people have learned from Steve Jobs’ leading style, Brad Feld’s insights on building community, or even Warren Buffett’s thoughts on business. While I admire all three of these men, I think my business career has been most influenced by a man much closer to me: my dad.
Some young people have trouble really listening to their parents’ advice, so I’d like to point out some of the great things I’ve learned from my dad — and challenge others to look to their parents to unearth some nuggets of wisdom of their own. Here are four things I’ve learned about business from my dad:
1. Treat people well because it’s the right thing to do.
It’s cliché because it’s true. If you treat people well, they will want to do business with you. I believe that you should treat people well not because you want something out of them for business, but because it’s just what you do. A true sign that you treat people well is how they talk about you when you’re not present.
I’m consistently amazed by the reactions of people I meet who know my dad. It’s never just an “Oh, I know your dad.” Instead, it’s always “Your dad is one of the nicest guys I know!” It’s not because my dad is a schmoozer; it’s because, throughout his career, he’s been genuinely nice to people and really cared about them. Growing up and seeing how he treated those he did business with instilled in me the belief that you need to do things not because you think they’ll help business — but simply because they’re the right things to do.
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2. Laugh at yourself.
As an entrepreneur, you have to be okay with the fact that you’ll sometimes mess up, and you have to be comfortable laughing at yourself when that happens. I’ve been told that I get my forgetfulness and goofiness from my dad, and I couldn’t be more flattered. He once called a computer repairman to figure out why his printer wouldn’t work. The repairman simply plugged the printer back into the socket. Instead of being mortified, my dad laughed it off and told the whole family about his silly mistake. An entrepreneur can’t get thrown off by every tiny mistake she makes. She has to look at the bigger picture, admit when she’s wrong (or forgot to plug in a device), and move on to make better decisions.
3. Put family first.
I recently heard an entrepreneur speak about how he’d missed his wife’s birthday the last four years and missed nearly every family outing because of his business. I not only found this sad, but completely unnecessary. My dad ran a home-building company while I was growing up, and he somehow managed to teach me to play golf, take me to tournaments throughout the summer, coach my soccer team, help with homework, eat dinner with our family every single night, and appear when I needed someone to talk to.
As a young entrepreneur, neither married nor with children, I simply cannot fathom how he handled all this. It taught me that you can put family first and still run a successful company. I never once felt that my dad put work before his family, but I know he was working insane hours on his business as well. This gives me faith that I can someday have a family and still run a company that I love. Being an entrepreneur does not have to mean isolating yourself from the other fulfilling aspects of life.
4. If you don’t love what you’re doing, do something else.
Too often, I hear friends complaining about hating their jobs, and I just want to scream, “Then change it!” If you care enough to teach yourself new skills or start from the bottom up, you can make a change in your career — or, as an entrepreneur, you can change your company! My dad’s passion (that he successfully transferred to me, my siblings, and my mom) is golf. He’s played since he was 10; he was a teaching pro.
Although his passion was golf, teaching it for a living wasn’t. He realized he was never able to play when he was teaching, so instead of griping about it, he taught himself everything he could about the real estate industry and changed careers. My dad taught me that if you don’t like what you’re doing, you can work hard enough to change it.
A lot of entrepreneurs I know think they know everything or look to famous entrepreneurs for direction and advice. I’d challenge them to look more closely at the entrepreneurial role models within their own networks of friends and family. I know my career thus far has been greatly influenced and improved upon by what I learned from my dad. I hope to make him proud as my entrepreneurial career thrives.