Business Magazine

7 Leadership Lessons From Successful Immigrants

Posted on the 06 August 2017 by Martin Zwilling @StartupPro

Elon_Musk,_TeslaIn my experience as a business advisor and angel investor these days, I seem to more frequently hear from entrepreneurs and business owners with “can’t-fail” or “get-rich-quick” ideas. In my view, these are the least likely to succeed, partially because the people behind them have the wrong expectations and traits. The instant gratification approach just doesn’t work in business.

In addition, I’ve always wondered why an inordinate number of successful businesses today were started by people born outside the U.S., including Sergey Brin (Russia) at Google, Elon Musk (South Africa) at Tesla, John W. Nordstrom (Sweden), and Pierre Omdiyar (France) at Ebay. It seems like these immigrants would be least likely to succeed, with all their extra challenges.

Perhaps that’s why I was impressed with a new book, “The Emigrant Edge,” by Irish immigrant and successful business executive, Brian Buffini. He details the natural disadvantages and advantages of immigrants, compared to native-born business leaders, and highlights seven common traits that we both believe should be adopted and practiced by every business owner:

  1. Develop and nurture a voracious desire to learn. In this rapidly changing world, there is no time for repeating the mistakes of others, or trying to repeat yesterday’s success. Successful immigrants have found that they need to go out of their way to meet and listen to others, have new experiences, and learn from different aspects of life and cultures.

  2. Maintain a “do-whatever-it-takes” mind-set. Life favors the persistent and the willing. It’s going that extra mile, and never giving up, that enables getting over the hump to success. Successful immigrants have been forced to get out of their comfort zone, do things they don’t necessarily want to do, take risks, and make difficult decisions.

  3. Feel a deep-seated willingness to outwork others. Those who come to this country with little more than hope to their name know that to get what they want they must work harder and longer than anyone else. With native born new entrepreneurs, I sometimes feel a sense of entitlement, or hear the search for how little one can work to find success.

  4. Demonstrate a heartfelt spirit of gratitude. Not only should we be grateful for small successes in our business, we should also be grateful for the setbacks because from these we learn more. Gratitude has the power to change your thinking from pessimism, to making a difference in the world. Immigrants know to be grateful for what they have now.

  5. Practice the boldness to invest in the future. Immigrants certainly can’t afford to let life’s many choices confuse them. If they have a desire to succeed, they have to be bold and focus on a desired outcome. That means forgoing short-term returns, and investing in themselves, their vocation, and in other people. They put in everything they have.

  6. Have the discipline and commitment to delay gratification. There’s no denying that instant access to most things is satisfying, but it has downsides too. Some business people develop the trait that if results are not immediate, it’s time to give up. Successful immigrants learn to sacrifice, and understand that slow and steady often wins the race.

  7. Remember always to appreciate every step of growth. Immigrants may have started with nothing, but everyone has grown from their beginnings. Sometimes these steps are so small that they are lost or unappreciated, when they should be remembered and celebrated. Successful people enjoy and appreciate the journey, not just the destination.

I’m convinced that every person who starts a business should think of themselves as an emigrant turned immigrant, or one who leaves a known home base, to more permanently settle in or create another, hopefully better place. Think of the seven traits outlined here as the “emigrant edge.”

The sooner you can unleash these traits in your life and your business, the sooner you too can experience business success.


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