You may recognize Kevin O'Leary as a "Shark" investor on the ABC reality television series, Shark Tank. He is also a celebrated author, business journalist, and most notably, a powerful leader, having founded a successful software company and the O'Leary Financial Group. Recently, I had the pleasure of seeing Kevin O'Leary speak at the Robin Robins 2015 IT Sales and Marketing Boot Camp. There were many takeaways from O'Leary's time on stage, but the most captivating part of "Mr. Wonderful's" presentation was his analysis of what makes a true leader. 

1) Employees are not your friends

I'll admit, this sounded rather harsh initially. I have worked closely with superiors in the past that I would certainly have considered to be friends. However, O'Leary clarified that while you should still be friendly and respectful of your employees, you must also be able to make the difficult decision if the betterment of the business calls for it. Don't make important decisions based on how it will affect a friend's feelings. Consider the business impact first.

2) Maintain a clear line of command

The people that you hire must be able to meet their goals. Once you have hired someone and put them in a position of power, you need to trust them to do their job. Micromanaging or constantly checking in on employees can have a negative affect on your business, as well as your effectiveness as a leader.

3) Be accessible

You need to be willing to ALWAYS respond to questions that you are asked, no matter what the answer may be. Powerful and successful leaders do not avoid tough questions or pass them off to others. Leaving a question unanswered or being inaccessible can have wide, negative implications on your business. 

4) Delegate, delegate, delegate

This secret sort of ties in with secret #2, but is more about being able to "step back" from certain roles and responsibilities. You should be hiring the right people for your business, people that you trust can handle vital day-to-day matters. Once you are able to delegate some of the responsibility that comes with running your business, you'll be able to take that step back and be a more impactful leader. Wouldn't you prefer to work ON your business instead of IN your business?

5) Don't procrastinate

This seems like a leadership no-brainer, but O'Leary reminded us that it is easy to delay making tough decisions, especially when they concern personnel. If you know that you're going to need to let someone go, it's better to take care of it swiftly and confidently.

6) Never pass the buck 

At first, I thought this tip clashed with tip #4. However,"passing the buck" involves handing off decisions that you simply don't want to make. This is different from delegating. When you delegate responsibility, you're allowing capable hands to put their abilities to full use. Handing off a difficult decision to someone because you don't want to "hurt feelings" or "look bad" is cowardly. A strong leader needs to be able to take ownership for all decisions, good or bad.

7) Service trumps price

Never underestimate the power of impeccable customer service. O'Leary described customer satisfaction as "the best possible return on investment." Providing your customers with a positive experience that leaves them smiling will allow you to raise prices. Once you have gained your customers' trust, they are unlikely to leave you due to a price increase. The stellar service that you provide them will trump their preference to save a few dollars and may even lead to a few referrals. The worst decision you can make is to sacrifice customer service to slightly decrease the price that you're charging your clients.

8) Life is not fair 

This is more of a life lesson than a lesson in being a good leader, but it still applies to business. O'Leary talked about coming to terms with the fact that life isn't always going to be fair, but it will always come around. Sometimes you will feel like you're doing everything right and still not getting the results that you're looking for. Tough cookies. Life isn't fair. Still, it is important to stay the course. According to O'Leary when you persevere, you'll eventually get the results that you're looking for.

9) The boss doesn't always make the most money

Everyone tends to think that the person at the top of the food chain is the one taking home the biggest paycheck. Often times this is the case, but it doesn't necessarily have to be. O'Leary mentioned how he rewards his sales people with the highest salaries. He never puts a cap on the commission of his sales team. The people that are making the sales are the ones that know the business inside-out. They know the product, they know what the customer is looking for. Leave it to them to bring bodies through the door, and reward them for it.

10) Business is war; there are winners and losers

When it comes to business, every day is a battle and the business landscape is the battlefield. The sooner you come to terms with the fact that somebody has to win and somebody has to lose, the better off you'll be. O'Leary's view that business is war has shaped him as a leader, prompting him to declare, "I want my competitors in every company that I own to fear me."

Overall, O'Leary's 10 secrets revealed one strong overarching point: being a leader in business is difficult. At times, you're going to feel like you're letting people down, making people upset or getting the short end of the stick. However, if you're able to keep your focus on the end goal and separate the business decisions from the emotional ones, you'll see yourself evolve into a successful, perhaps even "wonderful," leader. 


If you're looking for more guidance from titans of industry, check out these highlights from the keynotes at our first user conference, Navigate 2014!

And if you're a partner, register for Navigate 2015 to hear Robin Robins speak!

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