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How An Entrepreneurial Mindset Can Transform Any Company

Developing this mindset can serve as your compass through chaos.

Developing this mindset can serve as your compass through chaos.

I have been an entrepreneur all my life. I believe that the only way for any organization, large or small, to adapt successfully to today’s complex and dynamic world is by adopting an entrepreneurial mindset.

During my 18 years as CEO of F-Secure, before I joined the Nokia board of directors, I honed my ideas about what I call “entrepreneurial leadership”: what it means to be an entrepreneurial leader and how to bring out those qualities in everyone, whether they’re in charge of a company of many or a company of one.

How Entrepreneurial Leadership Led Nokia’s Comeback

At Nokia, the precepts of entrepreneurial leadership served as our compass through chaos. They helped us respond rationally when it would have been easy to panic, and continues to guide the company today. They kept me and the management team on course as we negotiated the deal with Microsoft that saved the company, guided a badly beaten-down organization as we came up with a new vision for the future, built a strategy to implement the vision, chose the right organization structure to drive the execution of the strategy, picked the best CEO and management team to lead the organization, and defined the balance sheet we wanted to achieve.

At the same time, those precepts enabled us to stay flexible enough to adapt to constant change when the conventional way of doing things would have sunk us. Entrepreneurial leadership means assessing the resources available to you and using them in the best possible way to improve your company’s performance and competitiveness. That’s why even though I stepped in to serve as CEO for eight months during our massive reorganization—and could probably have continued in that position—I recognized that I was not the best CEO for the company we were becoming and willingly stepped away again. Our present CEO is much better than I would have been.

Lessons I've Learned Through Entrepreneurial Leadership

Entrepreneurial leadership is also about learning—about viewing every challenge, every problem, every piece of bad news as an opportunity to learn and improve. I learned a lot. I learned to see through the sparkle of a hugely successful global corporation to spot the signs of trouble that could bring it down.Being paranoid enough to always plan for the worst-case scenario actually enables you to be optimistic about opportunities.

I learned that especially in complex circumstances, trust both greases the gears and is the glue that holds everything together. I learned that accountability, like trust, must be constantly reinforced. And I learned that once you have constructed a solid foundation based on these lessons of entrepreneurial leadership, you can become brave enough to dream big—maybe even bigger than you ever imagined. And I learned the pragmatic skills and tactics to implement these lessons.

I also learned about luck. We were hugely lucky and should always remember that. This was the only period in my life as a business leader where we undertook a sequence of big decisions and three massive transactions—including the sale of Nokia’s core mobile phone business to Microsoft, the purchase of complete ownership of NSN, and the acquisition of Alcatel-Lucent—and, even with the benefit of hindsight, I would not change any of those decisions in any meaningful way. It is rare to be able to say that, and I’m sure it won’t happen again.

That’s why I am even more paranoid than before. The more paranoid we are, the harder we will continue to labor to shift the probability curve in our favor and the more optimistic we can afford to be.

Not every organization may face a situation as complex and life-threatening as the one that confronted Nokia but I can guarantee that every company will encounter plenty of challenges that are complicated and unpredictable. Whether you’re managing a team or a corporate division, leading a small firm or a multinational corporation, heading up a start-up company or steering a solo practice, and whether your business is on the rocks or running smoothly, the lessons I’ll share will help you sharpen your foresight, expand your options, reinvent—if necessary—yourself and your organization, and enable you to thrive no matter what changes tomorrow brings.

Excerpted from Transforming Nokia: The Power of Paranoid Optimism To Lead Through Colossal Change. Copyright © 2018 by Risto Siilasmaa. Published by McGraw Hill Education.

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