Behind every successful business is excellent leadership. From a start-up to an organization with decades under its belt, good leaders inspire their people to the top of their field. What’s more, great leaders have staying power – recognizing what gets them up in the morning, keeps them excited and keeps them fulfilled year after year to keep making an impact.
It can look like abracadabra magic, but really, it’s strategic, goal-smashing, people-developing, customer-satisfying, nitty gritty, all hands on deck magic.
We had the chance to ask some of our favorite veteran pet-industry entrepreneurs and leaders the following question:
‘What is the one lesson you’ve learned that you’ve found most important to your success?’
And here’s what they said:
1. Know Thy Self.
Great leaders know exactly what they can and do offer the world—rooted in a deep and honest understanding of what they are good (if not, exceptional) at.
“For me it was about recognizing what I am good at. It took about four or five years, first working in television and then moving to print – but understanding what my biggest strengths were was key to my growth as an individual and as a leader in the workforce. It’s not an easy thing to assess your own abilities, but it is imperative. It allows you to improve on the areas you lack and capitalize on the areas you are strongest.”
Amy Boshnack, Animal Planet Digital Sr. Director, Executive Producer
“Actually, this advice was given to me by someone I knew, and I’ve borrowed it for myself. ‘Find what you love to do. Then learn and learn some more. And be the best you can be at it. Excel at one thing. And never stop working at your craft,’ Lucille Ball.”
Steve Dale, CABC, Radio Host and Nationally Syndicated Author
Too often, people can get caught up on improving their weaknesses—and don’t get us wrong here, it’s important to develop yourself—but there is a lot to say about maximizing your strengths. If you already do it well, may as well dominate it because it’s already working in your favor.
2. Live On Your Terms.
This is it. This is the only time you’ll have to live your life. Understanding the terms on which you want to live is imperative to long-term personal and professional success.
“I have better clarity on what ‘success looks like to me’ and structure my days around investing in myself first so that I can better serve my team, my customers, and my vendors. I do this with a morning routine that sets a positive, energetic intention and fuels my body through meditation and physical training.
Additionally, I have learned to NEVER play the comparison game. [I] surround myself with brilliant people- empowering them to shine in their area of genius. Through self care, strong leadership, and a laser focus on the vision, I have been much more effective at opening new sales verticals and expanding growth for the Dog is Good brand.”
Gila Kurtz, Co-Founder of Dog Is Good
I’m sure you heard it before, but it’s so true—you can’t give from an empty cup. Starting your day right by taking care of yourself helps you build up others.
3. Look For and Accept Help.
I’m always saying it:
“I don’t have to be everywhere. I don’t have to do everything. I don’t have to be everything to everyone… Everything works better when I’m not.”
It’s been a hard lesson to learn, but it’s one that forces leaders to recognize what kind of outside support they must have to succeed. Whether it’s data, complementary skillsets from other team members or a loving and supportive home life, these are the things that get (and keep) you going year after year.
“Remain forever and always interested in the how and why? Never think you ‘know it’. Success comes from wanting to truly and completely understand whatever it is you are trying to solve. You build data, perspective, knowledge and know how to make sure you can then step back and start to figure out how it all comes together. Without it…you won’t know the details that are required for success.
A 2nd one – less about business but more about life:
The single greatest way to find success is build a great team around you BOTH personally and professionally. Everyone knows great people make all the difference when they work for you, but I am talking about your personal network. To create great success you need to be supported when you are down and brought back down to earth if you get too high.
This is where family, friends, significant other and mentors can make all the difference.
Taking risk is required for breakthrough success -you MUST have support or you actually won’t/can’t take the risk you need. I have been extremely lucky to have a spouse who has been my rock for the last 17 years. She is the person who hears all my complaints, is the first to jump up and down when something great happens and the first to console me if things go bad though thick and thin. She allows me to take risks as I KNOW I have someone to catch me when (and I mean when, not if) I fall.”
Brock Weatherup, EVP Strategic Innovation and Digital Experience PETCO
Maybe you’ve heard it before—but there’s a rumor out there that you aren’t truly successful unless you are successful in all the areas that matter to you. Having great relationships in your personal life can matter just as much as healthy, productive, professional relationships.
4. Soothe The “I’m-Not-Good-Enough” Monster.
Imposter syndrome and excellent leadership do not mix well. Businesses thrive on authenticity.
“I am enough. I spent many years feeling that I wasn’t good enough and that I should be smarter, thinner, more confident, more talented, more… Feelings of ‘not being good enough’ created stress and held me back from speaking up when I should have.
As a young, female executive in technology, I felt out of place and awkward. I had to find my authentic voice and realize it was not only okay, but exciting to have my own unique sound. Some of the best career moments I’ve had are when team members told me, ‘I’ve never had a manager like you – and I hope I get to work on all your projects.’
’ The months before opening my own consultancy, I knew my fear of failure was holding me back. I wrote down every reason I was telling myself no. And one by one, I worked through each until they turned into yeses and confidently moved ahead.
My words to live by: Eleanor Roosevelt’s mantra: ‘you must do the thing you think you cannot do.’”
Lauren Feehrer, Founder and President of LoyaltyCraft Consulting
This doesn’t just need apply to business. Being confident and knowing who you are is enough is one of the most powerful realizations a person can make. It is from there that we can conquer our metaphorical dragons and begin demonstrating to ourselves that we can accomplish what we did not believe we could.
5. When You Know, You “No.” Boundaries are absolutely necessary.
Sure, people can feel harsh or as if they are missing opportunities by saying “no” to an offer, but think of all the stellar opportunities a business may miss because resources are tied up on the “wrong” project or with the “wrong” client.
“It is OK to say No! When I first started my business I said yes to everyone and every project that came my way only to find myself getting stressed and overworked. I have learned to be more selective with the projects I take on to ensure that I will continue to love what I do – I say No a lot more these days and in turn I am more successful and happier.”
Jill Caren, Owner of 2 Dogs Media, LLC
“I’ve learned to trust my intuition and say yes to ‘out of the box’ ideas when a flash of inspiration strikes. Taking action on intuitive inspiration has lead to being ahead of the curve with two, successful niche businesses as a Feng Shui consultant for homes and businesses, and the founder of Catio Spaces – designing safe, outdoor spaces for cats and their human companions.
It’s also led to forming a partnership with a national organization that furthers my mission to protect cats, birds and wildlife. Intuition is always my compass when hiring my team, making decisions and enhancing my clients lives.”
Cynthia Chomos, Founder of Catio Spaces
Something very interesting happens when we finally say “No.” We are emboldened by our authentic selves. We know who we are and have crystal clear vision about and in business. Dare we proclaim, being able to say “No” helps you follow that ever-wise gut instinct.
6. Recognizing The Best Lessons. Great leaders are life-long learners.
Being versatile, creating benchmarks across all aspects of your life, truly being present for the people and situations around you…all of these work volumes on your character. Acquiring new skills either through formal lessons or through tough criticism can keep you and your work agile and treading uncharted territory for yourself and those who may follow.
“Learning. Life-long learning is necessary to every bit of success I’ve achieved over my lifetime. I don’t only mean continued learning in your current field of expertise, or your chosen industry. I mean, learning over-all. We all need to learn new skills (social media taxes me weekly!), embrace new and challenging ideas, and open our minds to the conversations all around us. It’s in our engagement with friends, family, and colleagues, that new ideas are sparked and encouraged. Without them, everything we do would be stale, and ordinary. Stale and ordinary is no way to run a business!”
Yvonne DiVita, Writer/Author/Blogger/Book Coach, Founder Lipsticking.com
“For me, the most important lesson I’ve learned is how important it is to be open to criticism and failing. No one is perfect, and you can waste a lot of time feeling sorry for yourself after failing or receiving criticism. But, you can often learn the most from failures or from honest criticism. In the case of criticism you have to first determine if it’s true or not, and if it’s something that you should address. But if you’re open to taking the criticism, and seeing what you can do differently next time, you can learn a lot.
The same goes for failures. If you experience a failure, and look at it through more of an analytical lens, then you can course correct and learn for the next time. And you might fail again, but you can continue to learn, and by focusing on what you can change when faced with a situation or project like that in the future, rather than looking back at things you can’t change, it helps you bounce back quicker.”
Sarah Barnett, Founder of Social Media for Animals and Public Affairs Advisor for The Humane Society of the United States
We are bound to fail or make a mistake (we are human after all), but the bounce back is what distinguishes a successful leader and team from an unsuccessful one.
7. Planning for The Long-Haul.
Successful leadership plans for business success long after they depart the organization. Being able to forge on, despite obstacles (some foreseen and others not) and still enjoying the journey is crucial to longevity in any field.
“Building businesses is comparable to going for a challenging mountain hike – success comes down to a few factors:
- Take the time to prepare your trip (what can you learn from others that have hiked in this area? what equipment will you need? who would be a good hiking partner?)
- Be ready to adapt your execution as you progress (is this route really as easy as you initially thought? is it safe to ford this river given the conditions this year? should we honker down for the night before the weather changes?)
- Endurance is more important than speed or strength (what is my forever rhythm where I will not get exhausted too quickly? how can I break this trip down to manageable sections? did I bring the fuel and food needed to finish successfully?)
- Enjoy the hike (am I taking the time to take it all in? am I paying attention to the details around me?)”
Alexander Petersen, Founder DanaShift and Wagly
“I learned that winging it is easy but having a plan for growth and sticking to it yields far better results. The plan is focused on creating systems that drive towards vision. It keeps me focused and motivated every day.”
Laura Posey, Founder of Simple Success Plans
“I’ve learned that the most important way to keep moving towards your goals is to think of each one as a system. This means teasing out all of the ways that working towards your goal – not necessarily hitting it – can help you in the long run. For example, to me, developing and sending one very strong freelance writing pitch has multiple benefits, even if I do not land the assignment: researching a topic I can write about for multiple outlets and/or my own blog; using the pitch email as a template for future pitches; contacting a decision-maker who, even if they reject my pitch, may want touse me for an assignment in the future; getting comfortable “selling” myself; getting comfortable with rejection!”
Wendy Toth, Director of Content LuckyVitamin and founder of PowerSuiting (Former Director of content for Pet360)
It’s a great attitude to have towards your work—being able to see how every success and failure leads to your development and ability to better strategize for future success! Your business plan doesn’t just have to be for the year, or decade, or even your lifetime…you can create a legacy with your brand that transforms everyday life for generations.
8. No Petpreneur is an Island. Businesses are built on relationships.
People naturally are drawn to and will work with and for people they genuinely feel connected with.
“Relationships. Someone told me early on in my career that the relationships I would make would be the most valuable asset I ever ‘own’ in my career and she was not wrong. This point gets reinforced for me over and over (most recently at Superzoo, meeting up with people I’ve known for a decade, and forging new relationships too).
There is nothing more valuable than your network. Along with this, I am a person who tries to have a very generous default – especially in difficult situations. I always assume the best about people and give them the benefit of the doubt. This isn’t a very self-protective stance so it comes with risk, but I learned a long time ago that being suspicious or reactive makes great collaboration very tricky.”
J. Nichole Smith, Founder of Working with Dog and Co-Founder of Dog Is Good
“As an entrepreneur, what I think makes the biggest difference is being able to rely on talent that is aligned, for a high-quality execution, and being persistent, since success is very often a tortuous journey!”
Alvaro Jimenez, COO & Co-Founder of Petco’s PetCoach
It makes it easier to take a hit in business because you’re more willing to get back up if the people around you are worth getting back up with. It’s your relationship with the team that develops the inner sense of, “It’s worth it. Let’s try again.”
9. Your Word Is Your Bond… Every time.
Half of life is just showing up on-time. It’s remarkable how many brands lose trust or how many businesses outright fail because they are inconsistent and/or lacked follow-through.
“Deliver on your promise (meet/beat deadlines, listen to audience/clients and give what THEY want) and you’ll be WAY ahead of almost everyone else.”
Amy Shojai, CABC, Nationally Known and Award-Winning Author
“The one lesson I have learned that has been the most important in the success of American Pet Professionals, is consistency. Actually there are a ton of lessons I have learned over the years about how to be successful and stay successful, but if you are not consistent in your message, your branding, what you offer – people will quickly move on. Especially in this day and age of hyper fast paced movement of content in front of everyone’s eyes. I have seen companies come and go because they were not consistent, changed their message and branding so much – it showed that they were not even sure what they were offering.
Being consistent every day, week, month, quarter and year, takes work, time, dedication to your craft, to what you are offering and it is not for the faint of heart. With that said, being consistent, and evolving your company should go hand-in-hand, as you and your company grow.”
Nancy E. Hassel, Founder and President of American Pet Professionals, LLC
People do business with brands they trust and they cannot trust a brand that doesn’t know itself and doesn’t present itself accurately and honestly. Being able to do this will take you far in developing leadership that creates success.
Did something here surprise you? Did something ring true and like it’s missing?
It’s funny, when I founded ‘cause Digital Marketing I’d made a kind of study of what kept leaders and businesses succeeding in the pet space – and what did not. Each of these points echo those things I’d noticed – and why it was so critical when founding ‘cause to create a mission and vision about building relationships that last a lifetime.
In my nearly 17 years in this industry I’ve seen far too many great ideas and entrepreneurs spark and flame out. But, together, we’re shaping something new here at ‘cause – a place where each client, friend, partner and team member focus on what they’re great at and what feeds their soul.
We’re building relationships to last a lifetime and, through doing work that allows us to be fulfilled and live, we’re changing the world.
And that’s pretty amazing.
A special thank you to all the rockstar entrepreneurs and leaders who helped us better understand the lessons they had to learn for business success.
Hopefully all you petpreneurs learned a thing (or 5!) to help you have a rockstar launch into 2019…don’t worry, it’s bound to be a wild, magical ride!