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5 Timeless Business Lessons From Top Leaders (From Jack Ma to Steve Jobs)

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June 20, 2023
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7 minutes
Experienced copywriter who spends a lot of money at restaurants and regrets it later.
Running a business is no walk in the park. If you’ve been in the business world for a while, you may already know this—the sleepless nights, responding to work emails during birthday parties, getting phone calls at odd hours, clients demanding changes in projects, customers leaving negative reviews on Google, and the list goes on.

But don’t worry, you’re not the only person who has these problems. You see, there have been many, many successful business owners who have paved the way for future generations. We can always learn from them and take inspiration from their actions.

In the article, we will discuss the 5 business lessons from some of the smartest people. Hopefully, there’s at least one lesson here that'll motivate you to take the right step today. So, let’s dive into it.

Lesson #1: Understand the change and adapt to it

Darwin is often considered the father of evolutionary biology for leading new research and studies into the diversity of life on our planet. Even though he wasn’t a business leader, he knew something that every successful business owner knows today. The thing is, he truly understood how both humans and animals work. And he taught us all a fundamental life lesson: adapt.

You see, the world of business is constantly changing. For instance, who would have thought that Uber would take over the taxi business? Who would have thought that DVDs would be obsolete one day and that all movies would be accessible through smartphones? Did anyone imagine two decades ago that payments would be made by tapping a debit card? Not only this, but the fact that consultants are leaving corporate life and making loads of money as freelancers is equally fascinating. Markets changed, and many people who adapted to it succeeded.

Now, to embrace change and adapt to it, leaders should create a culture that is open to change. Many times, businesses stay stuck in the ‘usual’ ways of operating. The result: competitors who understand the change adapt to it and win. During the pandemic, for instance, many businesses realized the benefits of letting employees work remotely—which include better work-life balance for workers and reduced real estate costs for the business. But still, many businesses couldn’t deal with this change and suffered. Moral of the story: adapt to change.


  • Adaptability is really important for success in business. Businesses that adapt to changing markets and economies may be more likely to succeed.
  • Waiting for the "right" time can result in missed opportunities. When Spanx founder Sara Blakely couldn’t wait to afford a patent lawyer, she created her own patent.
  • Mental strength is key in business. Meditation, healthy eating, and exercise can make you sharper and better equipped to handle business challenges.
  • Create a great product first, worry about advertising later. David Ogilvy's tip to not advertise a bad product is still relevant today.
  • Don’t be afraid to seek professional help, like from freelance consultants and therapists, if you ever feel stuck in a business problem.

Lesson #2: Stop waiting until you think you’re ready

Sara Blakely, the founder of Spanx, is a world-renowned entrepreneur who turned $5000 into more than a billion. When she couldn’t afford a patent lawyer to patent her product, she learned how to do it herself. Instead of waiting till she could afford someone to create a patent, she took the plunge and just went for it. She’s a billionaire now!

You have no idea how much potential you have until you let go of fear and take action. For example, if you think you need an MBA degree before starting a business, then, chances are, once you get your degree, you’ll think you need two years of work experience first. And then you may find some other excuse, like, 'Oh, I have a partner and kids now,' or 'I am too old for this.'

There are many examples of successful business owners out there who have one thing in common: they didn’t wait and took action with whatever resources they had. So, if you’re reading this and you’re scared to take that step, let this be the omen you need.

Lesson #3: Have unbreakable mental strength

Let’s face it: leading a business from the front is not for the faint-hearted. Sometimes, you may find it hard to raise funds, and sometimes, competitors will beat you with a better product. You may also face economic turbulence, political turmoils, and market downturns. As a business leader, you cannot stop working after 5 PM like your employees. You’ll constantly have to juggle several tasks at once to ensure that your business thrives.

There are some ways you can prepare yourself for complex business situations. For example, you could build a strong professional network with like-minded individuals. Having a community for support may be of great use when things go south in business. You can get emotional support and even financial support if you know the right people who have similar goals as you.

Also, you should seek help from a therapist whenever needed. They can explore your underlying thought patterns, limiting beliefs, past traumas, and fears, and then use this information to provide insights, tools, and techniques that’ll help you stay on track. Furthermore, meditation, physical fitness, and a healthy diet can also be of great help. According to research by Harvard, a balanced diet can provide extra energy during stressful events. Moreover, it can also repair damaged cells and boost immunity—definitely a win for any entrepreneur.

Lesson #4: Bring the best out of your team

An article about business leadership would be incomplete without Steve Jobs. Jobs was known to put healthy pressure on people and push them to their limits. As a result, some of the best electronic products we know today were born.

Let’s discuss a real example from his life. According to a former Apple engineer, in February 2005, Jobs gave the original iPhone engineers only two weeks to come up with a software vision. He also challenged the team by saying that if they can’t get it done in a couple of weeks, he will transfer the project to another group. Now, the engineers were really motivated to not let the other group win and appear more competent than them. So, they put their heart and soul into the task, working day and night for two weeks. Finally, they defied all odds and completed this seemingly impossible task in time. You see, that’s Steve Jobs’ leadership!

Quite often, leaders don’t understand how to push people without breaking them. They are either too soft on the team (which results in lower productivity) or they are too hard on them, (which results in burnout and stressed employees). Only a skilled leader can bring the best out of people in such a way that no staff experiences unhealthy stress and still manages to finish momentous tasks. It’s a skill that you must master, too. You cannot build an empire alone. You will need talented people, and you will also need to know how to maximize their productivity.

Lesson #5: Create a really, really good product

David Ogilvy was a British advertising tycoon. The founder of Ogilvy & Mather, he is also known as the "Father of Advertising." And he was absolutely right when he said that no business should be advertising a bad product.

Now, place your hand on your heart and ask yourself: Would I buy my own product? Seriously. Do it. If the answer is yes, then you have nothing to fear. There’ll be like-minded customers out there who will be interested in your product. If your answer is no, then you should make changes in your product first, and then change your advertising strategy. So, make your product worthy of buying first, then try to sell it.

According to a survey by Nielsen, a whopping 92% of consumers trust friends and family recommendations over other advertisements. This means that a business cannot fool consumers into buying a bad product. They’ll ask around first, and if their close ones have had a bad experience with a product, no amount of marketing or advertising may be able to save it. For example, if a brand-new sunscreen lotion that’s advertised to reduce wrinkles doesn’t really work, someone’s family member may tell them to stay away from it. So, create a really good product that actually makes a difference in customers’ lives. The advertising will take care of itself.

And that brings us to the end of this article. Hope these lessons can bring a positive change in your life and motivate you to take the right steps to build a very successful business. By the way, if you need more advice on specific business-related issues, you should consider hiring freelance consultants. Here at Consultport, we have over 10,000 highly experienced and senior consultants who have solved major business problems before. From digital transformation consultants to strategy consultants, we can connect you with some of the top consultants in your preferred location. If that sounds good, get in touch now.