Meaningful entrepreneurship extends much further than merely launching ideas that (hopefully) turn into businesses. In fact, plenty of individuals with entrepreneurial mindsets never get behind the helm of the whole ship. Instead, they focus their unique abilities on providing tremendous value in whatever position they command. As a result, a mid-level manager who adds value to the team can wind up being as much of a leading force as her company-founding colleagues.
The True Definition of “Entrepreneurial”
Without a doubt, people who figure out how to identify and solve problems can naturally be classified as entrepreneurial. The word comes from “prendere,” meaning “to take” in Latin. These workers take chances, take ownership, and take every opportunity to generate a never-ending supply of ideas and energy. That’s why they typically rise to leadership positions. Once there, they can continue to spot and fill needs, as well as inspire others to follow suit.
How do you know whether you’re living up to your entrepreneurial potential? First, check the pulse of your work output. Do you take proactive steps to make life more efficient or to work more effectively? Or do you sit back and wait to be given assignments before acting? The former makes you an entrepreneurial thinker; the latter makes you someone who is simply biding their time.
Other entrepreneurial traits include having and communicating a vision. In other words, you see something that doesn’t exist now but could in the future. Then, you figure out how to fill the gap, and you describe that bridge in detail. This allows people around you to buy into your strategies and concepts. You might be surprised just how often that happens when you become a truly confident believer in your own abilities.
Other signs of budding entrepreneurism, even in young people who have no resources to launch companies (yet!), include self-awareness, curiosity, and perseverance. And a heavy dose of willingness to embrace change never hurts.
What’s the common thread among these characteristics? They’re all about using your unique capabilities to add value, so that no matter what your personal brand traits are, you know how to tap them in a way that produces benefits for everyone on your team. Again, possessing these qualities doesn’t mean you have to borrow thousands in capital or disrupt an industry. Just by conceiving new ways to deliver value, you’ll set yourself up to be known as an entrepreneurial leader.
Want to hone your entrepreneurial leadership skills? Adopt these strategies.
1. Own your learning curves.
Do you have an unquenchable thirst for knowledge? Fostering a learning mindset is key to entrepreneurial leadership, and that means it’s OK to admit you don’t know something. Use what you discover along the way to improve your responses and advice, and be honest about potential areas of improvement. For example, when you experience failure, think objectively about what went wrong and don’t beat yourself up. What worked in the experiment? What didn’t? What should you keep doing? Take it one step at a time.
Eric Ries, author of “The Lean Startup” and “The Startup Way,” argues that it’s the small iterations that lead to what later seem like big epiphanies. As Ries explains, “Too many leaders are searching for that one key innovation. But long-term growth requires something different: a method for finding new breakthroughs repeatedly, drawing on the creativity and talent of every level of the organization.” Concentrate on the tiny stuff you learn along the way and worry less about earth-shattering “aha!” moments.
2. Elevate your tribe.
You’ll never be at the head of the pack if you refuse to collaborate. Instead of greedily holding on to what you know, share it with the folks around you. When you engage in conversations with your network, talk about others’ needs and offer to help them achieve success. The more you invest in the individuals around you, the more you help the whole entrepreneurial community. Hope Horner, CEO of video production company Lemonlight and a three-time entrepreneur herself, lives by this philosophy. “By providing value to everyone around you, you’ll inevitably rise,” she says.
Not sure how to put this into action? Take your cue from the founders of Mend and Unbound. Leaders of both of these female-run startups have focused their attention on helping other businesses through joint networking and tie-in events. By collaborating on projects like co-branded gift boxes or hosting another company’s event free of charge, they have built credibility and leadership status despite having modest coffers.
3. Slow down for greater impact.
The old adage was that to be an entrepreneur, you had to move fast and break things. However, slowing the pace can be just as lucrative and even more beneficial to the community you serve. You may find that when you pause for reflection, you create space for empathy. Entrepreneurs must consider the societal impact of their products and services: What problem are you solving? Are you making life better for the poor or just the rich? Are you widening disparities or bridging gaps?
Hemant Taneja, managing director at venture capital firm General Catalyst and co-author of “Unscaled,” preaches the power of thoughtful consideration before attempting to scale. “We should not ignore the moral implications of the old ‘land and expand’ business aphorism,” he says. “Today when I talk with entrepreneurs about how quickly they can grow, I want to see them recognize that creating a ‘virtuous’ product may require them to grow more slowly than they might otherwise.” That means consistently pausing to consider the market-related and ethical ramifications of “half-baked solutions.”
Take a moment to consider your entrepreneurial aspirations. If you want to see them to fruition, begin by adding value wherever you go and weaving a reputation for being an avid learner, a collaborator, and a savvy, empathetic thinker who wants to do good, not just do well. In other words, the opposite of reckless and ruthless. You may never hit the “Shark Tank” scene, and that’s fine. Entrepreneurial leadership goes far deeper than founding a business or holding a patent. It all begins with reframing your point of view and acting with integrity and intention.