If you asked most CEOs, they’d probably feel lucky to name one truly exceptional business mentor who has influenced (or continues to influence) their entrepreneur leadership styles and business philosophies. So maybe I should consider myself exceptionally fortunate. In my 25-year software career, I’ve had at least three.

Mike Fields, who I first met at Applied Data Research and later followed to Oracle, taught me how to work with people, imparting knowledge that continues to help me motivate and mange them to this day. Former Oracle president Ray Lane, who is largely credited with the company’s incredible revenue growth in the 1990s, taught me to take a more operational approach to business. Larry Ellison, the legendary (and polarizing) co-founder and CEO of Oracle, taught me to think outside of the box and, when it’s necessary, how to be a contrarian.

In a lot of ways, I’m now an amalgam of those three mentors, with a dash of my own personal entrepreneur leadership style mixed in. I’ve learned from experience, from success (and mistakes), and from watching other senior leaders manage their teams. In the end, it’s cumulatively led to me developing 10 specific business philosophies and entrepreneur leadership lessons that I’m planning to share over the course of the next few months on this blog.

Can’t wait to read all of them? Here’s a quick teaser of each upcoming post:

Change is the Only Constant You’ll Face

Change is inevitable in business and you need to build your business model around it. Hire people who are comfortable in a world of change. Great businesses are able to grow in good times and bad, largely because they’re prepared for the unpredictable.

People Are Your Only Sustainable Strategic Advantage

Regardless of how great your products and ideas are, your people ultimately build, sell, and support them. The world’s best companies are able to continuously recruit and retain outstanding people and cultivate employee loyalty.

Listening is the Key to Understanding

Unfortunately, too many CEOs spend more time talking about themselves or their company and not nearly enough time listening to their customers, competitors, partners and employees. Listening to those people is the only way to really understand which direction your company should be going.

Customers are Important, but They’re Not Always Right

That statement may be contrary to everything you’ve heard or been told, but it’s true. Just because a customer wants, needs, or expects something doesn’t mean you should deliver it. Doing so might ultimately take your business in a direction it shouldn’t be going.

“No” is an Acceptable Answer (with an Explanation)

For a lot of startups and early stage companies, this isn’t an easy philosophy to adopt. As young companies try to grow, the temptation is to say yes to everything in the interest of signing up new customers and keeping existing customers and employees happy. Doing that, however, can distract your business from its true mission and run it off course. The truth is that most people will understand “no” if you can easily answer, “Why not?”

All Strategies are Transitional

Because things always change (see point #1), your strategies must, too. As product lines, customer needs, and markets evolve, you need to evaluate the strategies you’re using to address them. If those strategies are ineffective or out of date, it’s critical to fix or change them as soon as you’ve determined they are no longer effective.

Focus on the Three Things that Give You the Best Return

A lot of businesses (especially early stage ones) try to do too much. The bottom line is that you can’t do everything well and you can’t do it all at once. CEOs must look at the three things that can impact their companies the most. Outside of those three things, nothing else matters.

Don’t Avoid Making Decisions

This might seem like an overly simple philosophy, but the number of executives and senior managers that are afraid to make decisions might surprise you. Nothing can paralyze a business more than a leader who is tentative or hesitant about making decisions, regardless of how difficult or scary they might seem.

Business is a Marathon, So Make Sure You Can Survive the Race

As tempting as chasing monthly quotas might be, the best business leaders are able to focus instead on sustainability and long-term viability, refusing to sacrifice their company’s long-term health to win a short-lived sprint.

Your Reputation is Your Integrity — Don’t Compromise It

That’s a truism for life as much as it is for business. Your reputation is the only thing you can take with you throughout your career, and maintaining your integrity allows you to cultivate that reputation. Far too many people are willing to sacrifice their integrity for a quick dose of success. Cheating your integrity, however, will almost always bite you in the end.

While some of those entrepreneur leadership lessons and business philosophies might seem obvious and self-explanatory, you’d be surprised how often they’re ignored. In each of my upcoming posts, I’ll dive into each topic a bit more and offer some anecdotes from my career that better illustrate them.

Have some lessons or philosophies that you would add to that list? Feel free to leave them in the comments section below!

photos by: toehk & a_whisper_of_unremitting_demand

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