The easy daily habits 24 executives say give them an edge

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What Makes a Leader?

You might be surprised at the routines these high achievers swear by.

The most successful people I know share some common traits. They're confident, hard-working, astute with money, and health conscious. They also stick to certain routines proved over time to work. Check out these quotes from 24 successful executives who credit simple daily habits for helping them get ahead in business and life.

1. Get a head-start at home.

"The most effective thing that I've learned over the years is to get the top two or three 'must do today' emails or phone calls out of the way before I leave the house. Getting these crossed off my list first thing allows me to focus my full attention on everyone I come in contact with once I arrive at the office. Even the briefest interactions, when purposeful and heartfelt, have the potential to leave team members feeling inspired, appreciated, and supported. Conversely, if I'm distracted by a nagging need to make a call or send an email, someone can personalize a lack of focused attention and become demoralized or confused by the interaction. Learning to manage what has a tendency to distract you from being present and in the moment helps you give full focus to the most important asset any company has--its people."

--Niki Leondakis, CEO of Commune Hotels + Resorts.

2. No phones during family time.

"Spending time with my wife and kids invariably is the most rewarding part of my day but it's also critical to maintaining a sense of balance and perspective that ultimately benefits my role as a leader. My wife enforces pretty strict no-phone-time around dinner and bedtime for the kids, which I was resistant to at first but I've really come to appreciate. I walk my 6-year-old daughter to school every day and we talk about what she's learning and thinking about. Talking to 6-year-olds is great therapy."

--Xander Oxman, CEO and co-founder of wine company Winc (formerly Club W), which sells directly to consumers through a personalized wine club experience and to select restaurants and retailers.

3. Floss every night.

"It has been proven that there is a direct link between flossing and one's overall health. And the healthier you are, the more productive you are in both your personal and professional life. It is one of the easiest things you can do to maintain a healthy lifestyle."

--Damon Brown, CEO of Dentovations, the makers of Luster Premium White, a Boston-based oral beauty brand.

4. Say "hello" to everyone and take interest in what they are working on.

"On a daily basis I try to be visible in the hotel and remain approachable to people. It is so important that you understand the inner workings of your operation and that you can genuinely appreciate what people do. Creating and fostering a successful business is a collaborative effort and involves your entire team so it is extremely important to thank the people that surround you every day."

--Rebecca Hubbard, general manager of the historic Lotte New York Palace in New York City.

5. Build relationships with face-to-face time.

"Short meetings with key partners can do wonders for a business relationship. If it's a quick coffee or something else, you can grab a quick perceptive 'thin slice' of the health of the relationship and make adjustments. Phone, email, text, and other means of connecting are the foundation of daily business, but a quick face to face can be magic and open other opportunities you've never thought about."

--David Sutton, CEO of Physician's Technology, creator of the Willow Curve digital operating system for pain.

6. Stand for 15 minutes out of each hour.

"Recent research has shown that sitting all day can be bad for health. To keep your energy moving, set a timer on your PDA to go off once an hour and stand while your work for at least 15 minutes. Instead of sitting for a meeting, take a walk what that person, stand up while speaking on the phone, and have short meetings upright, rather then sitting."

--Karen Leland, founder of Sterling Marketing Group, and bestselling author of nine books, including The Brand Mapping Strategy

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1. Spend Less Than You Earn

This habit is Personal Finance 101. It's always going to be true that you'll never get ahead financially if you always have more money going out than coming in. The great news is there are two ways you can work on this habit: Focus both on growing your income and controlling your spending to live within your means.

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2. Pay Yourself First

When people say "pay yourself first," they mean you should take your savings out of your paycheck as soon as it hits your checking account to make sure you save something before you spend it all on bills and other expenses. The key to saving successfully is to save first, save a lot — 10 to 20 percent is often recommended — and save often.

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3. Maintain an Emergency Fund

Virtually every personal finance expert agrees that an emergency fund is central to financial health. Building and maintaining an emergency fund can help you avoid debt and give you a reserve to draw from, which can also help you keep your financial goals on track even through life's setbacks.

Start small by saving at least one month's worth of expenses, and then work your way up to saving a larger emergency fund, such as a year's worth. Having several months' worth of expenses saved up can protect you against financial concerns when crises like a job loss or medical emergency come up.

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4. Budget for Extra Expenses

In addition to basic living expenses and bills, you should also budget for other purchases you're in the habit of making. Whether it's buying a coffee twice a week, eating out on the weekends or buying gifts for friends and family, these seemingly little expenses can add up and suck your budget dry if you don't plan for them.

Write down everything you've spent money on in the past month — go back further if you can remember or look up transaction records and receipts — and categorize each expense. Rank each category by how important it is to you. Add the top three priorities as line items in your budget, such as $100 a month for date nights or $20 a month to buy supplies for your hobby. For everything else, work on dropping those spending habits or finding cheaper alternatives like brewing your coffee at home.

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5. Save for the Unexpected

Extra costs can come up frequently, and whether or not they're true emergencies, they can still set you back. Maybe your tooth filling falls out, your pet decides to eat half a rug and needs emergency medical care, you get a flat tire or your kid wants to start playing a sport. Your finances will get hit twice as hard by these unexpected expenses if you don't have extra money saved to cover them.

Having a buffer fund can create a little bit of wiggle room in your accounts so you can pay for these costs without going into debt or pulling money from your emergency fund. Try socking away $1,000 for each member of your household, for example, including pets.

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6. Get and Stay Insured

In addition to a buffer fund, you should also consider insurance. Insurance is an important protection that can stand between you and bankruptcy due to a major emergency. Make sure you have the following types of insurance, if they apply to you:

  • Health insurance
  • Dental insurance
  • Car insurance
  • Homeowners' insurance or renters' insurance 
  • Pet insurance
  • Guaranteed auto protection insurance

Stay current on all policies so coverage will never lapse when you and your family need it most.

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7. Set Financial Goals

To know what daily money habits to focus on and prioritize your money management the right way, you have to know what you're trying to accomplish. Review your finances. Look specifically for the biggest drains on your money, such as overdraft fees or high-interest debt, and also spend some time thinking about what you'd like your finances to look like in the future. Then, identify specific steps required to achieve your short- and long-term money goals.

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8. Review Your Progress Regularly 

Set aside time each week to check on your financial goals. Did you make progress? Were there any setbacks? Track how you're doing and celebrate your wins — not by splurging, though — to keep yourself motivated and on course.

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9. Track Your Money

You can't put your money where it matters if you don't know where it's going. Figure out a system to keep track of your financial transactions. Whether you prefer using pen and paper to reconcile your bank accounts the old-fashioned way or the personal finance apps like Mint, you need to have a clear picture of what is happening with your money. Tracking your spending can help you quickly identify problem areas that you can improve on and see the progress you're making.

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10. Check Financial Accounts Often

As part of keeping track of your money, you should check on all financial accounts on a regular basis. You should review spending accounts, like credit cards and checking accounts, daily in terms of checking balances and tracking expenses. Review bills when making monthly payments and updating your budget to make sure you avoid overdrafts or late fees.

Savings accounts should get a once-over weekly or monthly to keep them on track. Retirement accounts and investments can be reviewed less frequently, such as monthly, quarterly or biannually.

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11. Carry Only the Money or Cards You Need

If your wallet is so full that you can hardly close it, consider limiting what you choose to carry to the bare necessities: one debit card, enough cash to cover a meal or ride home, and one form of identification — but not your Social Security card. You can't spend money you don't have with you, so leave credit cards and extra cash at home to resist the temptation to spend.

Leaving credit cards at home can also limit your vulnerability to identity theft should your wallet ever be lost or stolen. Plus, charging all purchases to the same debit card and linked account will make it simpler to track your spending.

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12. Pay Bills on Time

Not only will paying bills on time save you money on late fees and penalties, but it is also key to financial peace and health.

If making payments on time is a struggle for you, review each bill you pay on a monthly basis and write down the due date. Set reminders on your calendar, alerts on your phone or sign up for reminder emails if they're offered so you never miss a payment.

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13. Automate Your Money

Another way to avoid late payments is to automate your transactions. For payments, set up automatic transfers through your bank's online bill pay service to send money out to pay bills at least three days ahead of the due dates.

Automation is also great for the "paying yourself first" habit. If you have a retirement account through work, set up automatic contributions. If you get regular paychecks in fixed amounts, set up automatic transfers to move money from your checking account to a savings account or retirement fund right after payday. Monitor these automatic transfers so that you never overdraft an account.

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14. Continuously Pay Down Debt

Interest and debt will hold you back financially. It's nearly impossible to get ahead and create a financially secure future when you're always paying off yesterday's purchases.

Budget for paying down debt, and consider temporarily cutting back on something, such as dining out, so that you can put more money toward getting out of debt. Pay more than the minimum due on your monthly bills when possible.

Some financial experts recommend paying off high-interest debt first whereas others suggest starting with the smallest balance first. Assess your debt, and pick the method that works best for you.

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15. Avoid New Debt

High-interest debt like credit cards or payday loans can be extremely difficult to pay off, especially if you're already in debt. Get spending habits under control and avoid new debt.

Try leaving your credit card at home or cancel it altogether if doing so won't hurt your efforts to improve your credit score. Having an emergency fund can help you avoid new debt by covering costs with savings instead of putting them on credit cards.

If you are considering going into debt, make sure it's because the debt will help you work toward important goals, like owning a home or getting a degree. And, of course, try to only take on short-term, low-interest loans or credit if possible.

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16. Build Your Credit

It can be easy to get complacent about your credit score and forget to pay attention to your credit report — until you try to get a home loan or turn in a rental application and are reminded of how important they are.

Check your credit reports yearly, and get any issues resolved if there are errors on them. Make sure you're managing your credit well by paying off bills on time and keeping balances low. These money habits can help you avoid high-interest costs as well as build your credit.

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17. Invest in Yourself

The best place you can put your money is into improving your value and net worth. From daily habits like eating well and getting enough sleep to big life steps like finishing school or switching careers, you should adopt the mindset of always growing and achieving goals that have long-term benefits.

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18. Keep Looking for New Earning Opportunities

As much as controlling spending and saving are essential habits, earning more money can be just as important. Look for ways to increase your income.

It could be something small, like babysitting once a week or walking your neighbor's dog along with yours. Or, find a way to make some money with a hobby, such as selling crafts online or busking on the weekends. You might even consider getting a second job.

If your time is too limited for these options, look for ways to increase your pay at your day job. Find out what would be required to earn a raise, and then go for it. Acquire new skills and education that can increase your earning potential.

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19. Grow and Invest Your Money

In addition to looking for ways to earn money, financially savvy people also look for ways to grow the money they have. That can be as simple as finding a high-yield savings account for an emergency fund or as challenging as learning to manage a portfolio of investments. Compound interest is a powerful force, and if you get it to work for you, it can be your secret weapon to financial independence.

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20. Save for Retirement

Saving early and frequently is one of the secrets to retiring with financial security. Don't put today's wants ahead of tomorrow's needs. Set up a retirement account and start adding to it each month.

Figure out how much you need to save before you retire and make a concrete plan to do it. Learn more about financial planning and investing to grow your money and keep up with inflation.

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21. Get Your 401k Employer Match

Along with saving for retirement, put money toward employer-sponsored retirement accounts, especially if your employer will match your contributions. Employer contributions are free money — all you have to do is set a little cash aside for retirement, which is what you should be doing anyway.

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22. Learn to Want (and Buy) Less

Resist the urge to buy this product and pay for that service to be happy, attractive, fun or anything else that marketing campaigns are designed to make you think. Practice mindfulness through diligent budgeting and possibly through habits that can help you improve how you feel, such as meditation and gratitude journaling, so that you remember to appreciate what you have. Make sure you're the one deciding what your money should be spent on, not marketers or your peers.

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23. Do It Yourself

Convenience is attractive, but it also can be expensive. Some services are worth paying for so that you can free up your time — or avoid incurring more costs by botching the job — but you can save yourself potentially thousands by getting in the habit of tackling many projects, chores and problems yourself. Simple things like preparing meals at home, doing your own laundry instead of sending it out and buying a manicure kit to maintain your own nails can add up to big savings.

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24. Shop With a Plan

Shopping mindlessly leads to overspending and indulging in impulse buys. Planning ahead, especially when grocery shopping, can help you stick to buying what you actually need and avoid wasting money. Make a shopping list, stick to it, and try to get in and out of the store as fast as possible.

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25. Compare Costs on Everything

To spend money wisely, you need to be able to decide if what you are getting is a good enough value to justify the cost. Get in the habit of comparing prices of products as well as comparing prices against their value to you. Some personal finance experts suggest you start by comparing your hourly wage to the cost of the item you want to buy.

For example, is that pair of shoes really worth three hours of pay? Then compare the cost of the thing you want to other things you could use the money for, such as paying off high-interest debt.

Lastly, compare the actual item to others like it. Is there a less-expensive alternative that offers the same product or service at a lower cost? If you spend a little more, can you get a better version that would last twice as long? Weighing these options can help you buy less junk, cut down on waste and lead you to choices that offer real value and higher quality.

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26. Use Coupons and Ask for Discounts

Look for coupons, deals and discounts. Whenever you make plans to spend, whether it's heading out to the bar with friends or signing up for a new internet service, check for deals and look for ways to spend less. Maybe the bar has a happy hour and you can save money by getting together earlier. The cable and internet company could be offering a special deal for new customers. Even your credit card issuer might give you a rate discount if you ask.

Only look for deals once you've already decided your purchase is a smart one. Don't use discounts and coupons to justify frivolous spending.

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27. Learn From Financial Setbacks

Almost as important as knowing the right things to do is knowing how to get back on track when things go wrong. Almost everyone faces financial setbacks at some point.

Practicing the habit of facing setbacks head-on. Look back on past financial missteps so that you can identify what went wrong and how you can prevent those problems in the future.

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28. Fix Bad Habits

As you set and practice new, financially healthy habits, you can't let yourself off the hook for those few bad habits that will inevitably stick around.

Maybe you avoid problems when they come up instead of quickly resolving them or you too easily justify overspending when you're out with friends. Chances are you have a handful of money habits that are tripping you up again and again, and these bad habits can potentially do more damage than good habits can fix.

Whatever the issue, don't let yourself sabotage your efforts to build wealth. Along with building positive habits, work to get past your financial weaknesses and be honest with yourself if you're spending to fulfill an emotional desire instead of meeting a true need.

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29. Educate Yourself on Finances

If you're serious about building financial health and wealth, then you need to educate yourself. After all, you can't make the best financial choices if you have no idea what your options are and how each decision will impact your life and money down the road. Start small by reading some personal finance books and spending a few minutes each day reading personal finance articles (just like you are right now).

When researching options to make a decision, dive deep into the pros and cons of your choices. Whether you're shopping for a car loan or the right mortgage or are trying to find the right financial planner or investment vehicles, you'll be able to make decisions wisely and confidently when you have learned as much as you can about the topic.

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30. Take Advantage of Cash Back

If you have a credit card that offers cash back on everyday purchases, why not use it to put more money in your back account? Get in the habit of using your card whenever there's a cash-back opportunity. Just be careful not to spend more than you can afford to pay back.

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7. Make the right enemies.

"I quickly learned that clients fell in two general categories: Those who want to hear what they want to hear and want me to do things the way they are comfortable with, and those who want results. It is easy to make a living coddling those in the first group. It is also very easy to piss them off. Like many consultants, my reputation has an enormous impact on why people hire me and pay the fees I charge. Early on, I learned a valuable lesson when I naively gave critical feedback to a highly insecure parent who had a huge presence in the community where I was trying to build my practice. She immediately fired me and began bad mouthing me to anyone who would listen. A few weeks later I got a call from a mom who hired me because she was impressed at my willingness to criticize this person who many in the community secretly disliked. That one contact helped launch my practice. Over the years I have very deliberately ensured I make the right enemies, and let their venom become some of my best PR."

--Jeffrey Leiken, CEO of Evolution Mentoring & HeroPath Life Coaching, who works with teens, families, and organizations on four continents.

8. Exercise.

"Entrepreneurs typically focus on business first, kids second, spouse third, and leave little energy for themselves. By saving time every day to exercise, and encouraging my team to do the same, we are more capable of performing at peak levels for longer periods of time. Employees will eventually take the time they need, and often at the wrong time, if we do not help them plan ahead to take care of themselves and ultimately take care of the various roles they have in life."

--Matt Stewart, co-founder and co-CEO of College Works Painting.

9. Use the "bassackward" agenda.

"When planning a meeting, start from the end. The most effective way to do that is to prepare based on outcomes: When we finish, what will we have changed? These should be quantitative, such as 'We will have a clearly understood budget for the third quarter of FY 2016.' They should also be qualitative, such as 'The noisy people will talk less, the quiet people more.' From there, draw up a loose schedule to leave time for the unexpected. If everyone is on board with the outcomes, the timetable will take care of itself."

--Mac Bogert, president of AzaLearning, which serves 200 organizations nationwide, and author of Learning Chaos: How Disorder Can Save Education.

10. Do something daily to expand your network.

"The primary driver of growth in our business is referrals, and networking is an absolute critical piece of that equation. Having a solid network of connected professionals has done wonders for our business, and I have made it a habit to do at least one thing every day to expand my network. Whether it's looking for someone to connect with on social media, reaching out to a local center of influence, or asking for introductions from my existing network, I always make sure to do this at least once a day."

--Lou Desepoli, president and CEO of Desepoli Wealth Management, which provides fee-based financial strategies and advisory services and was recently named an MD Preferred Physician Services provider for excellence in service to the medical community.

11. Take a five-minute time out for personal reflection.

"It's easy to get caught up in intense production mode, especially when you love what you do. I easily fall into a flow state where I'm creating nonstop for hours on end with no concept of time or space, sometimes at the expense of eating and exercise. High achievers are generally poor at taking time for an inventory of what they've created, which is why I now carve out five minutes at the end of the day to acknowledge even the smallest little stepping stones. I express gratitude for the gift of creation and ask for inspired thoughts that our clients and listeners will find shareable."

--Pamela Herrmann, co-creator and chief storyteller for the small-business marketing training hub CREATE Buzz and co-host of The Morning Would Show.

12. Don't do the things you are good at.

"For years we have been told to focus on the things you are good at and surround yourself with people to do the other things. I have learned that just because I can add value to a conversation or project doesn't mean it is the best use of my time. Instead of focusing on what I am good at, I focus on doing the things that only I am good at."

--Mark Young, chairman and CEO of Jekyll and Hyde Advertising, which has successfully launched or built over 30 consumer brands.

13. Give yourself time.

"Allowing yourself to relax, breathe, and meditate for as little as 30 minutes can make an improvement in your daily activities. This can be done early morning and/or before you go to bed."

--Peter Bombara, CEO of PCB Financial Advisory Group, which guides families to and through retirement.

14. Create a prioritized daily to-do list.

"When you wake up each morning, prepare a daily list of all the things you need to accomplish by the end of the work day, and prioritize each item by order of importance with 'A' being the most important and 'D' being the least important. Too often people tend to shoot from the hip and work on items as they arise during the day, rather than accomplishing priority items that will make their business more successful. Having a to-do list to work from makes it easier to focus on the important things."

--Brett King, SVP of investments of Elite Financial Associates, has been in the financial services industry for nearly 35 years.

15. Pray and give thanks every morning before your feet hit the ground running.

"Devoting your first five or 10 minutes of every day to being grateful for the new day in front of you and the abilities, gifts, and talents that you have been blessed with to create your own destiny and wealth truly makes a difference in long-term success. It's a true statement that it's not happy people who are grateful, but grateful people who are happy. Happiness is part of success and if you're happy, you will be much more productive and it will be contagious to those who work with you and are helping you to achieve your goals in your business. Yes, you can have it all, financial wealth, happiness, a balanced life, and a grateful heart."

--Aurea McGarry, Emmy Award-winning TV show host, producer, and director as well as CEO and founder of Live Your Legacy Summits, and president and founder of Legacy Maker Entrepreneur coaching systems, which has trained more than a million entrepreneurs nationwide.

16. Drink more water.

"The body is made up of water and needs ample hydration to perform at elite levels. In the chaotic life of an entrepreneur or high level executive, it's sometimes difficult to remember to do this habit daily, especially when traveling. Strive for eight glasses a day, or daily volumes proportioned to your weight. The combination of healthy water intake and exercise keeps you on top of not only your physical goals, but your business goals as well."

--John Rizzo, managing partner of Globe on Demand, which has helped thousands of publishers and brands build their online authority.

17. Think of projects as white-water rafting.

"You know where you want to end up, but the journey can be choppy and full of obstacles. This view helps with decision making and being flexible enough to make changes quickly to ensure that you achieve your objectives."

--V. Michael Santoro, co-founder and managing partner of InVidz, which developed an interactive inbound video marketing system called Vaetas.

18. Celebrate every employee.

"I personally send out a signed birthday card to each of the 450 employees in my company. I want them to know they are appreciated on one of the most important days of their life."

--Frank Granara, CEO of Boston-based General Insulation Company, provider of insulation, and author of Beyond the Executive Comfort Zone: Outrageous Tactics to Ignite Individual Performance.

19. Find a way to notice and recognize at least one employee a day.

"Search out and acknowledge someone for what he or she has said or done in support of what your company believes in and stands for. Personal recognition from you can be more impactful than most any other accolade bestowed on employees. People are usually surprised to be noticed and they remember the acknowledgement for a very long time. This is one way to foster a culture of gratitude."

--Bethany Andell, president of Savage Brands, MBA graduate from Rice University's Jones School of Management, a regular speaker, and author of several articles recently published in The Houston Business Journal.

20. Connect with people on a personal level.

"People work to live, not to live to work. Equally, people don't care how much you know until they know how much you care. Family businesses perform well because of trusting personal relationships. Develop sincere relationships with your suppliers, customers and fellow employees and improvement in your business and life will follow."

--Henry Hutcheson, president of Family Business USA, part of the Olan Mills family, and author of Dirty Little Secrets of Family Business.

21. Read positivity every day.

"I try to read something positive each day--an article, book chapter, internal communication. It sets a positive tone that carries me through the day. And I try to control the bookends of each day. How I start my morning and how I end my day are critical elements of success in my business and all aspects of my life."

--Cody Foster, co-founder of insurance marketing organization Advisors Excel.

22. Never assume that you know what matters most to your customer.

"Make it a habit to always listen before talking with your customer or client. Even if you understand what they care most about and what's top of mind today, its cathartic for them to tell you, and you will invariably learn something that you didn't know. And don't make the mistake of asking them about their priorities and success criteria only when it's time for them to buy something, and there's a potential opportunity on the table. Some of the most effective selling occurs when the customer isn't buying, yet. If you show interest only when you're trying to sell something, they invariably see right through it."

--Steve Andersen, president and founder of Performance Methods, a leading sales performance consultancy, and co-author of Beyond the Sales Process: 12 Proven Strategies for a Customer-Driven World.

23. Keep your focus on moving forward.

"There will be as many ups as there will be downs when starting and running a business. I deal with fire drills as they come up, and then move on without looking back. Dwelling on a mistake or mishap will only slow you down. If a fire comes up, work it out as best you can with your team and learn from it. Letting it drag you down will only waste valuable time and likely lead to other mistakes. Deal with it and move on to the next thing."

--Ido Leffler, serial social impact entrepreneur who recently starred in Oxygen's Quit Your Day Job, and co-founder and CEO of Yoobi, a school, office, and home supplies brand that matches customer purchases with donations to classrooms.

24. Hang out with employees.

"It's important to me to foster a great company culture and create an open environment. Every day I wake up with the intention to inspire our team members to serve as cultural ambassadors. I want everyone to feel comfortable and empowered to voice their thoughts on how to make the company operate at its best and that is why there are no separate offices at the Destination Hotels headquarters--only cubicles. I make it my mission to engage with team members on a regular basis, by hosting breakfasts, lunches, and happy hours in our company kitchen. This provides an open space for sharing and getting to know one another on a personal level, and it's a way for me listen to everyone's input on how to keep improving the company."

--Jamie Sabatier, president and COO of Destination Hotels.

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