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10 Leadership Lessons That Warren Buffett Taught Us

10 Leadership Lessons That Warren Buffett Taught Us

Who could not be inspired by Warren Buffett, who has promised 99% of his wealth to charity? That wealth is worth about $40 bn. He started selling newspapers at the age of 11 and he is now 84 with no intention of retiring.

“I would say that life at 84, I am having as much fun as I’ve ever had in my life. I mean I get to do what I love every day with the people I love—and it just doesn’t get any better than that.” – Warren Buffett.

He has written extensively about his business success and is in great demand as a speaker on leadership. Here are 10 lessons that he has taught us.

1. Love what you do.

“There comes the time when you ought to start doing what you want. Take a job that you love. You will jump out of bed in the morning. I think you are out of your mind if you keep taking jobs that you don’t like because you think it will look good on your resume. Isn’t that a little like saving up sex for your old age?” – Warren Buffett

Listen to any interview with Warren Buffett and you will hear how passionate he is about his job. He is convinced that this will give anyone in business a competitive edge. If you are thinking of taking a new job which you are not enthusiastic about, it might be worth thinking again.

2. Learn how to communicate effectively.

“You’ve got to be able to communicate in life and it’s enormously important. Schools, to some extent, under emphasize that. If you can’t communicate and talk to other people and get across your ideas, you’re giving up your potential.” – Warren Buffett

Read any letter to shareholders in Warren’s company, Berkshire Hathaway Inc. You will be immediately struck by the non technical language, the clarity of thought and how he gets his message across, with the minimum of jargon. His success is also due to his intimate knowledge of the business.

Warren Buffett was terrified of public speaking and had to enroll in a course to overcome his fear. Aim for easy and clear communication in your own business whether it is a memo to your staff or speaking in public.

3. Choose your business associates wisely.

“It’s better to hang out with people better than you. Pick out associates whose behavior is better than yours and you’ll drift in that direction.” – Warren Buffett

He was able to spot successful and talented people and used a few basic networking skills to keep up contact and be inspired by their success. If you hang out with mediocre associates, they will never inspire you to do better and aim higher.

Read about Guy Spier who was prepared to pay $650,000 for a lunch with Warren Buffet because he wanted to be inspired by an extraordinary entrepreneur. The money went to charity, of course. Yes, there is no such thing as a free lunch!

4. Don’t micro manage.

“Hire well, manage little.” – Warren Buffet

He strongly believes that great leaders need to spot and hire great talent. He also lets them get on with it and rarely interferes so that they feel empowered by this independence. The lessons for future leaders are clear. Have fewer meetings and call your CEOs and managers less often.

5. Plan for the future.

“The primary job of a board of directors is to see that the right people are running the business and to be sure that the next generation of leaders is identified and ready to take over tomorrow.” – Warren Buffet

Buffett already knows that his job will be divided into three, once he decides to step down. The board has already chosen a CEO candidate and a non-executive chairman plus an investment manager.

Future leaders need to think ahead about their successors and how they will be groomed for success. It is no surprise to learn that the most successful companies have predictive models in place for their promising talent for the next five years at least. They also place heavy emphasis on education and skills development for their staff.

6. Transparency is highly appreciated.

“If anything, taxes for the lower and middle class and maybe even the upper middle class should even probably be cut further. But I think that people at the high end—people like myself—should be paying a lot more in taxes. We have it better than we’ve ever had it.” – Warren Buffett

Bill Gates admires Buffett for many reasons. Even on such a sensitive issue as taxation, Gates admires him because his transparency is invaluable even though it might not be in his own best interests.

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Transparency at every level pays off handsomely in every business field. Employees are tired of surprises and there is a growing demand for delivering the truth.

7. Patience is a virtue.

“No matter how great the talents or efforts, some things just take time. You can’t produce a baby in one month by getting nine women pregnant.” – Warren Buffett

There is no doubt that Buffett has demonstrated patience throughout his career. This great quality goes hand in hand with a certain bravery and perseverance. Great leaders need to resist pressure and have the tenacity to see the project through to the end.

8. Manage your time wisely.

“You’ve gotta keep control of your time and you can’t unless you say no. You can’t let people set your agenda in life.” – Warren Buffett

When Guy Spier had lunch with Buffett, he was shown his diary. It was remarkably empty. The billionaire explained that he preferred to have time for serendipity. It also gives him the freedom to spend the time in ways that he sees as priorities. It also means that he has learned how to say ‘no’ when necessary. The lack of appointments for meetings was noticeable!

Learning to organize their office space, their emails and how much time they spend online are usually great ways leaders can manage their time more effectively.

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9. Be prepared to take risks and learn from mistakes.

“Risk comes from not knowing what you are doing.” – Warren Buffett

Buffett has followed basic principles when looking at the risk factor. He prefers to avoid any investment opportunities that carry a catastrophe risk. He always tried to invest in high probability and low risk scenarios.

He has learned too from his mistakes. He made costly errors with U.S. Airways, ConocoPhillips (COP) and Energy Future Holdings. Like any successful leader, he has analyzed his mistakes and used this to make better decisions in the future. Unsuccessful leaders avoid failure at all costs.

“I make plenty of mistakes and I’ll make plenty more mistakes, too. That’s part of the game. You’ve just got to make sure that the right things overcome the wrong ones.” – Warren Buffett

10. Treat everyone equally.

“Personally, I really hope I can treat everyone equally. I think I have done a pretty good job so far but I know I can do it better.” – Warren Buffett

Nobody is left behind. Treating everybody equally and avoiding favoritism is the true mark of a leader. Buffett’s golden rule is about reaching out to the silent, competent workers.

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Let us know in the comments which quote/s have inspired you most.

Featured photo credit: Fortune The Most Powerful Women 2013/Fortune Live Media via flickr.com

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Robert Locke

Author of Ziger the Tiger Stories, a health enthusiast specializing in relationships, life improvement and mental health.

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Last Updated on April 23, 2019

How to Set Stretch Goals and Keep Your Team Motivated

How to Set Stretch Goals and Keep Your Team Motivated

Stretch goals are a lot like physical fitness. When you adopt a physical sport such as running, continual practice leads to increased stamina, growth and progress.

While commitment to the sport improves performance, true growth happens when you are stretched beyond your comfort zone. I know this from personal experience.

For years, I was an avid runner. I ran with a variety of running groups in the Washington, D.C., area and in Columbus, Ohio, where I lived prior to moving to the nation’s capital in 2011.

While I was initially fearful about slacking off on my exercise habit when I moved to D.C., running enthusiasts in the area provided continual motivation, inspiring me to lace up my shoes day after day. Much to my surprise, many of the area’s running stores (including Pacers and Potomac River Running) boasted running groups that met in the mornings and evenings. So, it was relatively easy for a newcomer like me to connect with like-minded peers.

I was never a particularly fast runner, but I enjoyed the afterglow of the sport: being completely drained but feeling a sense of accomplishment; setting and reaching goals; buying and wearing out new tennis shoes. The sound of throngs of feet pounding the pavement in semi-unison is still enough to bring tears to my eyes. Yes, I sometimes tear up at the start of races.

Of all the groups I ran with, the Pacers Store group that met on Monday nights in Logan Circle boasted the fastest runners. I met up with the group week after week only to be the slowest runner. It was difficult to muster the courage to get up every week and meet the group knowing what was waiting for me: sweating and watching the backs of fellow runners.

Each time I joined the group, I was stretching myself without even realizing it. Instead of feeling like I was transitioning into a better running, for a long time I felt I was torturing myself.

Then something remarkable happened. I went for a run with a different set of runners and noticed my time had improved. I was running at a faster pace and doing so with ease. What was once uncomfortable for me I now handled with ease.

The reason I was becoming a better runner was because I was taking myself out of my comfort zone and challenging myself physically and mentally. This example illustrates the process of growth.

Fortunately, we can create situations that stretch us in our personal and professional lives.

What Is a Stretch Goal?

A stretch goal – as authors Sim B. Sitkin, C. Chet Miller and Kelly E. See detail an article “The Stretch Goal Paradox” in Harvard Business Review[1] – is something that is extremely difficult and novel. It is something that not everyone does, and it’s sometimes considered impossible.

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In general, you establish stretch goals by doing things that are difficult or temporarily challenging.

For instance, when I was first promoted to a senior communications management role, I knew I needed to beef up my relationships with media personalities. I set a goal to once a month book a day of media interviews in New York City – which is home to many media outlets, including SiriusXM radio, CNN, NBC News, HuffPost, VIBE.

This was a huge goal because it meant not only identifying the right people to meet with but convincing them to meet with me and my team. While I didn’t end up meeting the goal of doing a full day of media interviews in New York City, I met more people than I would have met had I not established the goal and instead stayed in the comfort of my D.C. office.

It is important to note that just because you establish a stretch goal doesn’t mean you’ll achieve the goal each time. However, the process of trying is guaranteed to provide some level of growth.

The Importance of Creating Stretch Goals

The beginning of the year is a perfect time to assess where you are excelling and where there is room for you to grow. I typically start the year by creating a yearlong strategic plan for myself.

I think about the things that are necessary to do and things that would be cool to do. I assess the people I should know and think through how to meet them. Then I ask myself if the goals are realistic and what would need to happen for me to achieve them.

Over time, I have learned that there are five things I can do to set stretch goals:

1. Get Outside of Your Head

If I exist within the confines of my imagination, I imperil my own growth and creativity.

If I examine my accomplishments and celebrate them in isolation of others’ accomplishments, my vantage point is limited.

I want to be comfortable with what I accomplish, but I also want to be motivated by watching others. In some respects, stretching is about expanding your network of friends, associates and mentors. These are the people who will propel or slow your growth and development.

Since two are better than one, I always value being able to share my progress with others, seek feedback and then map a plan for success.

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2. Focus on a Couple Areas at a Time

When setting goals, it is important to focus on a couple of areas at a time. Most of us are only able to focus on a few things at a time, and if you feel you are unable to tackle all that is before you, you may simply disengage.

I see this in so many areas of life:

When people get in debt, if they believe the debt is insurmountable, they refuse to look at incoming bills for fear of facing down the debt. Unfortunately, many businesses go awry when setting stretch goals.

In “The Stretch Goal Paradox,” Sitkin, Miller and See note:

“Our research suggests that though the use of stretch goals is quite common, successful use is not. And many executives set far too many stretch goals. In the past five years, for example, Tesla failed to meet more than 20 of founder Elon Musk’s ambitious projections and missed half of them by nearly a year, according to the Wall Street Journal.”

Goal-setting is like a marathon, not a sprint. It doesn’t all need to happen at the same time, and pacing is extremely important if you want to get to the finish line. It is better to focus on a couple goals at a time, master them and then move on to the next thing.

3. Set Aside Time Each Year to Focus on Goal-Setting

When I was a managing director for communications for the Advancement Project, I spent the first part of every year facilitating a communications planning meeting.

The planning meeting began with the team members assessing the goals the team had established in the preceding year, and whether those goals were realistic or not. If we failed to meet certain goals, we broke down why that happened. From there, we brainstormed about possibilities for the current year.

For instance, one year we set a goal of pitching and getting 24 opinion essays published. This was audacious because no one on the eight-person team had the luxury of focusing exclusively on editing and pitching opinion essays to publications around the world. We would need to focus on pitching in between the rest of our work.

We hit this goal within the first eight months of the year. Remarkably, in total, we ended up getting 40 opinion essays published that year, which was an indication that our original goal was too low. We upped the goal to 41 the next year, and amazingly, we hit 42 published opinion essays or guest columns.

From this experience, we not only learned what was feasible, we also learned the power of focus.

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When we focused as a team on getting the commentary on our issues out in the public domain, we were successful. The key in all of this is that there was a ton of discussion around which goal we’d pursue and why.

Equally important, as a manager, I didn’t set the goals alone; the team members and I established the goals collaboratively. This ensured buy-in from each individual.

4. Use the S.M.A.R.T. Goal Model to Set Realistic Goals

S.M.A.R.T.

is a synonym for specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and time-bound. For the sake of this article, the realistic portion of the acronym is most important.

While you want to set audacious goals, you want to ensure that they are realistic as well. No one is served by setting a goal that is impossible to accomplish.

Failing to meet goals can be demoralizing for teams, so it’s important to be sober-eyed about what is possible. Additionally, the purpose of setting goals is to advance and grow, not depress morale.

For instance, my team would have been discouraged had I begun the year asking it to pitch and place 40 opinion essays if we didn’t already have a track record of placing close to two dozen essays.

By using the S.M.A.R.T. formula, we were able to achieve all that we set out to do.

5. Break the Goal up into Small Digestible Parts

I am a recovering perfectionist. As a writer, being a perfectionist can be counterproductive because I can fail to start if I don’t see a clear pathway to victory.

The same is true with goal-setting. That’s why I join Lifehack’s fellow contributor Deb Knobelman, Ph.D., in noting that it is critically important to break goals into bite-sized chunks.

When I had a goal of doing daylong media meetings in New York City, I had to think through all the barriers to achieving that goal and all the steps required to meet the goal.

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One step was identifying which reporters, producers and hosts to engage. Another step was writing a pitch or meeting invitation that would capture their attention. Another step was thinking through the program areas I wanted to highlight and the new angles I could offer to different reporters.

Since reporters want to cover stories that no one else has written, I needed to come up with fresh angles for each of the reporters I was engaging. An additional step was thinking through who from my team I’d take with me to the various meetings.

I was clear that, as a talking head, as public relations reps are sometimes called, I needed the right spokesperson in order to land repeated meetings with different outlets.

A final step was thinking through what I needed to bring to each meeting and which reports, videos and testimonials would buttress our claims and be of interest to media figures.

As I walked through what was needed to bring my goal of doing daylong meetings to reality, I realized that not only was the idea within reach, but I was excited to tackle the challenge.

From that point until now, I have learned to break down goals into smaller parts and tackle the smaller parts on the path to knocking the goal out of the park.

The Bottom Line

These are my recommendations for setting stretch goals, and there are a ton of other resources to support you in the workplace and in your community.

For instance, LinkedIn’s Lynda.com platform has a wonderful suite of leadership development videos, including ones on establishing stretch goals. This is a paid resource but may be worth the investment if you lead a team or want to invest in tools for your own growth and development.

Featured photo credit: Avatar of user Isaac Smith Isaac Smith @isaacmsmith Isaac Smith via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Harvard Business Review: The Stretch Goal Paradox

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