The most ambitious of us can get pretty frustrated when we look to those who are already established figures of authority. Whether it’s a despised boss, a misguided politician, or even a mentor you admire and respect, impatience can creep up and the long game seem too tough a haul to continue. But while a handful of lesser leaders may well have stumbled into their positions through a combination of luck and bluster, a closer look at more respected business leaders reveals a notable pattern: they struggled.

From Alan Sugar to Warren Buffet, enduring business leaders attained their acumen the hard way – through bottom-of-the-ladder jobs, hard-won insights, and dogged determination. As Bret Taylor, multi-millionaire co-creator of Google Maps, puts it: “Cleaning bathrooms at a gas station motivates you to attend college.” He earned just $7.50 per hour with that particular gig, but his flair and ambition shone through.

Likewise, Richard Branson started out in the rather messy business of breeding parakeets, selling them at $10 per bird – but this is how he developed his business instincts. “You don’t learn to walk by following rules,” he reminds young entrepreneurs. “You learn by doing, and by falling over.” Branson is now worth over five billion dollars.

It’s not just about business sense, though. Okay, so Barack Obama is certainly comfortable with his $12m fortune, but he became the respected world leader that he is through his formidable sense of empathy and compassion. And where did he develop this? Scooping ice cream at Baskin-Robbins for $8.60 an hour.

If you’re serious about standing out from the crowd, there is no life experience that you won’t value and analyze for the lessons it holds for your future. For more great examples on iconic leaders who’ve done the same, check out this new infographic – and then get straight back to work. It first appeared on Make It Cheaper on August 3, 2016.



Marilyn is a HR specialist from Brooklyn and based in the UK. Her area of expertise is human resources, but she's also worked as part of a large customer care team for many years. Nowadays Marilyn is developing her career as a freelance writer, specializing in topics connected to leadership, careers and advice for small businesses from a HR perspective.

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