Grow Your Business With Lessons From Warren Buffet, Jeff Bezos and Other Top CEOs

In my search for insights into running a business, I read published letters to shareholders by such icons of success as Warren Buffet and Jeff Bezos. Here are four lessons I learned from these top CEOs, plus one of my own.

Lesson 1: Wake Up Terrified

One of my favorite pieces of advice came from legendary college basketball coach John Wooden. Wooden would tell his players not to look at the other team. He reminded them they had a game plan and were going to execute it. Our job, he told them, is to focus on our plan. So, if we’re not worried about the competition, why do we wake up terrified? Because there is one person without whose existence your business would surely fail: the customer. And a customer is loyal until someone else offers a better service or delivers a better experience.

You must always focus on the customer and put them first. That’s lesson number one.

Lesson 2: Know Which Door You’re Going Through

I like to think of decision-making as having two types of doors. There’s the one-way door. You can’t afford to make a mistake with a one-way door decision. As a result, these decisions usually take longer and may require a large financial commitment. You can’t get out of it easily, so you try to make it work. You feel stuck. Two-way door decisions are different. These are the doors you go through when implementing new processes or products to meet current market expectations. Many dealerships lose market share because they think every decision is a one-way door. It is not.

The second lesson I learned is to consider making more two-way door decisions when growing your business.

Lesson 3: Disagree and Commit

In his 2016 letter to shareholders, Jeff Bezos explained how when Amazon executives got together to plan a new initiative, they wouldn’t always agree. Because speed is important, those same decision-makers didn’t have time to dither. For Amazon, this meant they sometimes had to make decisions without having consensus. How’d they handle it? They’d admit it’s okay to disagree with a decision and, at the same time, commit to its success.

The third lesson, then, is to remember not everyone has to agree with a decision but they must commit to its success.

Lesson 4: Create More Than You Consume

In his last letter to shareholders before retiring, Bezos talked about the value of creating more than you consume. Your goal, he argued, should be to create value for everyone you interact with. You can add value and give back more than you receive in many ways, from being a visionary or mentor to others, to recommending and researching new solutions. Go all-in and exceed expectations.

Lesson four is to create value with every interaction, especially with your customers.

Final Lesson: Grow Your People

This final lesson is one I learned first-hand over many years as a CEO. It’s not gleaned from stockholder letters or how-to books; it is based on my observations and experience, combined with a dose of common sense.

The secret is simple. The easiest way I know to grow a business is to grow the people in it.