Lessons in the Pursuit of Excellence
Life gets busy. Has What It Takes: Lessons in The Pursuit of Excellence by Stephen A. Schwarzman been on your reading list for a while? Learn the key insights now.
Disclaimer: This is an unofficial summary and analysis.
About Stephen A. Schwarzman
Stephen A. Schwarzman is a billionaire American financial services executive, investor, and philanthropist. As one of Wall Street’s most prominent figures, Schwarzman co-established The Blackstone Group in 1985. Today, Blackstone is one of the world’s most successful investment firms, with Schwarzman serving as its CEO since its inception.
Schwarzman was briefly the chairman of the Strategic and Policy Forum under President Donald Trump.
What It Takes: Lessons in the Pursuit of Excellence by Stephen Schwarzman is a book for current and prospective entrepreneurs. It provides anecdotes, philosophies, and advice for ambitious readers seeking to build and launch their start-up ventures.
Schwarzman speaks with authority on having distinct goals for your business and focuses on various areas of leadership, including decision-making, negotiation, and team-building. He emphasizes the steps he took to achieve his immense success.
With these storyshots, see if you can integrate Schwarzman’s wisdom and teachings to launch and scale your own business. If you feel you’re at a standstill in your career or life, then this might be the ideal book for you. Join us to learn our top 10 takeaways from What It Takes.
StoryShot #1: Don’t Be Afraid to Be Ambitious and Go for Gold
As a philanthropist and business executive, Schwarzman has achieved outstanding success. He points out that he always pushed the envelope when seizing new opportunities. He also emphasizes the difference between small and big goals.
Both small and big goals take effort, time, and commitment. Why work towards a smaller goal when you can drive that same effort to accomplish a big one?
“It’s as hard to start and run a small business as it is to start a big one. You will suffer the same toll financially and psychologically as you bludgeon it into existence. It’s hard to raise the money and to find the right people. So if you’re going to dedicate your life to a business, which is the only way it will ever work, you should choose one with the potential to be huge.”– Stephen A. Schwarzman
But remember that there are consequences for having these grand ambitions. Some ideas may fail, but you shouldn’t let that discourage you.
Look at it this way: imagine spending one week working on a task that is a part of what you do every day. In other words, you are already expected to do that task. On the other hand, your coworker tells you they’ve been working on something that is out of the box. But there’s no assurance they’ll succeed.
If your coworker succeeds, they will get a promotion for being creative. Meanwhile, even if you succeed, you won’t receive the promotion as you did nothing out of the ordinary. This is an obvious case where the upside is potentially unlimited while the downside is capped. It’s a lesson in the importance of making that extra effort, walking the extra mile, and standing out to succeed.
StoryShot #2: Be the Best at Everything You Do
A critical step to success includes having confidence in yourself as a leader and your team. Don’t be modest when you explain your accomplishments and skills to others. It can kill your confidence to be modest about your achievements. People will only remember what you tell them.
A first impression can make or break connections with people. There are countless opportunities to meet new people through networking events or regular work meetings. Standing out is more important than you might think and not impossible to do.
“As long as you are excellent, things work out for you”– Stephen A. Schwarzman
Another point here is that you should always try to be better. Think about what your next step could be. You should consistently aim to build upon your strengths, mitigate weaknesses, and enhance the skills you already have. What about the conversation you had last night that didn’t impress the CEO, and how can you impress them next time?
Look to add things to your business profile that you think you can’t achieve. Once you reach a goal you set for yourself, start thinking about the next while the momentum is still with you. Have a mindset that no goal is too far to reach. In most cases, it is your lack of confidence causing barriers.
StoryShot #3: Stick to Your Morals and Maintain Your Work Ethic
Clearly define the company’s mission and values. Then, communicate these to the organization and hold everyone (including yourself) accountable for upholding them. Remember to adhere to the same morals, even as a senior executive.
Positive organizational relationships are the foundation of a successful company. These relationships include the ones you create with your team and others. A leader must set a positive example from the top down.
You should have the same work ethic that you demand from your staff. This will help you win long-term trust and respect. Always treat people like they are an asset to you – everyone has something to learn from new people.
As company representatives, it’s vital to show positive behaviors and values. The general morals and ethics of a business are crucial. As a brand grows, these qualities become embedded in organizational culture and become a reflection of the company externally.
StoryShot #4: Negotiation Involves a Win-Win for Both Sides
A major skill that most successful entrepreneurs possess is the art of negotiation. During a negotiation, learning how to listen is crucial, as it acts as an exchange of information with new contacts. If you’re trying to establish new business partnerships, listen to what people need.
One conversation can contain much information that could help you or someone else achieve their goals. Trying to connect with potential partners involves engaging in productive discussions.
When you chat with others, seek opportunities to make personal connections. Find common ground between you and them. If you find a connection to something you can provide, seek potential solutions. What have they pointed out? Is this something you can support?
Keep the goals of others in mind in every new discussion you have. If it’s a business deal, negotiations come into play. Conduct negotiations to benefit both yourself and the other party. If you can help them see a solution, you both win.
Be honest about your skills and what you can do. Try not to over-promise and under-deliver. This is where listening becomes important. You need to understand what they need and where you can help. If not, see if you can refer them to someone else.
StoryShot #5: Find the Best People to Build an Unstoppable Team
This piece of advice is catered towards those who manage a team. A big part of a successful business is a team working in harmony. How can entrepreneurs ensure they are working with the best of the best?
You should hire people who consistently seek to go beyond the call of duty. That is the type of person you want on your team. They take pride in being creative and positively impact the rest of the group.
“We wanted to be spoken of in the same breath as the greatest names in our industry.”– Stephen A. Schwarzman
Finding the best of the best might be a grind, especially if you’re a small start-up. Highly skilled and passionate staff can focus on achieving bigger and better things at larger companies.
A second success factor is looking out for people who can quickly solve minor problems. This means they can pay more attention to solving more complex problems. There is a tremendous difference between the value of high-quality and mediocre workers. Avoid those that you think you can improve over time. It will be much more rewarding to find the best of the best rather than taking what you can get.
StoryShot #6: Rejection Can Strengthen You
Do not quit, and don’t get discouraged. Use failures as moments of reflection and learning. Learn what you can do better next time and what to avoid.
“To be successful, you have to put yourself in situations and places you have no right being in. You shake your head and learn from your own stupidity. But through sheer will, you wear the world down, and it gives you what you want.”– Stephen A. Schwarzman
A well-known saying also works as a dependable business tip: the higher the risk, the greater the reward. Remember that it might be hard to see the potential and value of an opportunity at the moment. But sometimes, riskier choices can end up being the better choice.
With risk comes the possibility of failure and rejection. This shouldn’t stop you from pushing forward. Remember to take rejection as inspiration. If you believe in something, don’t let it go. Practice persistence when you make those big goals.
StoryShot #7: Making Tough Decisions Today Can Reap Rewards Tomorrow
Life is full of hard decisions, and entrepreneurship and business are no different. There will be moments when you need to make tough decisions even when you don’t want to make them. To keep yourself successful and growing, you need to recognize your weaknesses and proactively address them. This may include staff or partnerships that once supported your business’ growth but aren’t doing so anymore.
“Sometimes success in life is knowing one’s limitations”– Stephen A. Schwarzman
Another challenging aspect of business and negotiation is what Schwarzman calls the dismantling of emotional relationships. This is true for people in any profession who make business decisions. There needs to be a separation between being nice and being smart.
Business ethics, values, and needs can change over time on either side of a deal. Sometimes, you might no longer see value in a business relationship. Cutting ties with a partner organization such as a start-up might hit you in the gut, but it might be the best decision for growth.
StoryShot #8: Collaboration and Networking Builds Relationships
Another key point is the importance of networking. It is vital in business and entrepreneurship. Building relationships opens up opportunities for collaboration and learning.
Learning from others with more knowledge than you is always a good idea. The more people you know, the more connections and access to knowledge you have.
Schwarzman built his network in several ways. The most notable one was by making his mark in politics. He built relationships with policymakers through his management experience at Blackstone. These relationships have opened multiple doors of opportunity in his business career that he otherwise would not have had.
StoryShot #9: Learn from Others and Take In All the Information You Can
People learn by doing, and learning from others is best. Teachings can come from anybody, from your boss to a coworker.
“Getting to know Jack [Welch early on in my career]] and watching him in action reinforced my growing belief that the most important asset in business is information. The more you know, the more perspectives you have and the more connections you can make, which allow you to anticipate issues.”– Stephen A. Schwarzman
The best learning comes from watching the people you aspire to be. Go to networking events and build new relationships. Soak up the information from successful peers.
You can also reciprocate. Share your knowledge and skills with others. Your work experience or education can be helpful to people following in your footsteps. Supporting fellow business owners fosters long-term relationships.
Partnerships and relationships that benefit both parties are ideal and hold the most value for everyone involved.
StoryShot #10: Make a Personal Impact through Your Success
Remember that you can use knowledge for the better. Use your skills and resources to strive toward philanthropy. Achieving success should go hand in hand with positively impacting the world.
“Public service is a core value for people of my generation”– Stephen A. Schwarzman
Schwarzman himself engages in philanthropic activities. He has donated millions of dollars to funding programs and scholarship opportunities for students. He also supported changes to business and education policies. In January 2020, Schwarzman joined Bill Gates’ The Giving Pledge initiative. The Giving Pledge is a movement where the ultra-wealthy of society commit to giving away most of their wealth to philanthropic causes. This wealth is given away either during their lifetimes or in their wills.
It’s essential to use your success to improve the world. Use your skills and knowledge to leave your legacy.
Final Summary and Review of What It Takes
Let’s review some key takeaways from these storyshots:
- Be relentless
- Have confidence
- Build your network
- Drive positive change in the world
There are many points throughout the book where Schwarzman emphasizes the value of self-confidence. Be proud of what you have accomplished without being arrogant.
Remember to make connections with others. Always look to build relationships within your field. Share your skills with others. It can bring about opportunities that could propel your success. Also, recognize problems in the industry and find solutions. Listen to people who share issues that exist for them and look for ones you can resolve.
We rate this book 4.3/5.
What It Takes PDF, Free Audiobook and Animated Book Summary
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