There is no magic formula for becoming an entrepreneurial leader—it’s a choice you make about investing time and energy into this reinvention endeavor.
Motivation might not even be an issue for you. You realize that applying entrepreneurial skills in today’s disruptive business environments would make a positive difference in your career. But you may be harboring fears about not being a prime candidate for this type of leadership.
Let’s dig in and explore some myths and truths about entrepreneurial leadership that you might not have considered.
Myth #1: You Need Previous Entrepreneurial Experience
Never operated your own business or been part of a start-up team? No problem. Entrepreneurial leadership begins with a mindset shift, developing new skills, and ongoing evolution. It’s not an expertise defined by Malcolm Gladwell in his book Outliers that requires 10,000 hours or 7 years to achieve mastery.
Myth #2: You Must Aspire to Launching a Startup
You have no desire to operate your own solo business or startup a company. You enjoy working for an employer where you have people around you for collaborative efforts (less lonely), and where you have reasonable resources at your disposal (less costly), and where you receive a regular paycheck (less financially disruptive). You have no desire to juggle the craziness of an entrepreneur’s life.
No need to apologize for wanting to work for someone else. Big business could really use entrepreneurial leaders! Recharge your career by reinventing yourself in your existing space. Good news? Entrepreneurial leadership provides a number of transferable skills that you can apply during times of economic shifts and technological disruptions.
Myth #3: My Employer Expects Entrepreneurial Behavior
Although I’d be delighted if every employer embraced an entrepreneurial mindset, alas, this is not a given. In fact, your employer may not want you to develop these skills, something to keep in mind as you begin introducing change—you’ll want to consider whether incremental steps may be the way to go.
Develop your exit plan as well, since you’ll be less likely to stick around at a company that you’ve outgrown—once the entrepreneurial genie is out of the bottle there’s no turning back.
Myth #4: No Need—I’m an Office of One
You don’t work with customers today who seek out innovative service providers—micro, startup, or small business? Perhaps, you’ll be the one-person shop who develops an app that changes how big businesses operate. Today, you probably partner with vendors and collaborate with other small shops. You may not have a staff of a hundred, but you better know what it takes to differentiate yourself and your business in a disruptive economy.
Myth #5: Black Swans Don’t Exist
In Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s book The Black Swan, he writes about the myth of invincibility that resilience can present when we see previous success and survival as definitive proof that we’re now invincible.
According to Taleb Black Swans possess three attributes:
1. It is an outlier—it lies outside the realm of regular expectations because nothing in the past can convincingly point to its possibility.
2. It carries an extreme impact.
3. In spite of its outlier status, human nature makes us concoct explanations for its occurrence after the fact, making it explainable and predictable.
Human nature is not programmed for Black Swans.
Truths about Entrepreneurial Leadership
Just as there are myths around that of entrepreneurial leadership, there are also truths that you’ll want to be aware of before engaging on this journey of leading entrepreneurial thinkers and doers.
Truth #1: Ability to Recognize Entrepreneurial Potential
You’ll need to recognize even the most subtle and nuanced entrepreneurial potential in others. Sometimes it will be more obvious, what Chris Claudatos, Sr. Director at EMC, refers to as “fire in the belly”. On the other hand, someone’s entrepreneurial potential might show itself over a longer period of time.
Truth #2: Capacity for Herding Cats (And Removing Fur Balls)
Managing creative people can feel like herding cats at times. Entrepreneurial thinkers and doers will challenge the status quo (even if it’s a status quo of their own making). Want to really get these “types” energized? Invite them into a lab environment where they’re given plenty of latitude to develop and make something.
These folks are wired to create and tinker with how things are designed and built. They’re looking for ways to innovate products and processes. It’s not easy to guide their flashes of insight and—if you’re fortunate—real genius, but definitely satisfying.
What does this mean for you as an entrepreneurial leader? You’ll likely be faced with uncommon barriers, sometimes needing to dig deeper than you’re comfortable doing as you prepare to tackle complicated, multi-faceted challenges.
See yourself as an advisor, mentor, and coach instead of as a “boss” and you’ll do fine.
Truth #3: Self-Motivation is Key
Entrepreneurial leadership does not come with guarantees of financial rewards, recognition, or promotional opportunities. Success comes about due to your direct efforts, even though the results that you help drive are tough to measure, which present businesses with opportunities to revamp their rewards and recognition programs by focusing on the results—and indirect value—driven by entrepreneurial leaders behind the scenes.
Your passion for innovation translates into making a difference in the lives of others, improving a company’s culture, and its products, services, and processes. If you require “center stage energy” in order to feel valued, you might not find entrepreneurial leadership (at least as I’ve defined it here) a truly satisfying role.
Truth #4: Gray Swans Do Exist
You can turn Black Swans into Gray Swans by reducing their surprise effect. You may not be able to predict the future, but you can certainly learn from the past and adjust accordingly.
Don't forget to download your free copy of The Entrepreneurial Leader's Disruptor Handbook!