Leaders need to be Entrepreneurs.
Entrepreneurs are creators. They work with little structure or resources. They see opportunity and have the internal drive and resourcefulness to make it reality. A Leader will benefit from developing entrepreneurial skills such as identifying new areas for development, initiating new projects, spotting opportunities, and encouraging managers to create new value-added projects.
Entrepreneurship is more than simply “starting a business.” The definition of entrepreneurship is a process through which individuals identify opportunities, allocate resources, and create value. This creation of value is often through the identification of unmet needs or through the identification of opportunities for change.
Entrepreneurs see “problems” as “opportunities,” then take action to identify the solutions to those problems and the customers who will pay to have those problems solved.
Entrepreneurial success is simply a function of the ability of an entrepreneur to see these opportunities in the marketplace, initiate change (or take advantage of change) and create value through solutions.
An entrepreneurial mindset is an important feature of leadership. For any given Leader, the path ahead is not always clearly marked. There are some "navigational aids" such as existing policy, laws, standards of practice, etc; but it's often up to the Leader to decide which direction to go, how an organization will get there, how best to leverage the "crew," and what stops they will make along the way.
Identifying new areas for development: This concept applies to staff, the larger organization (like the Department of X or an overall Company plan), sub-organizations (like the Y agency, an individual program or Division), and even to the Leader him/herself. The Leader must always be on the lookout for what can be done to create value for the organizations they serve. Leaders identify new areas, package new ideas so that people can understand, pitch proposals when necessary, gather necessary support structures, and ensure that the vision stays in tact over time.
Initiating new projects: Initiating new projects can be a challenge, but it's one that all Leaders must become acquainted. Peter Senge does a pretty good job, in my opinion, of highlighting some of the challenges of initiation in his book titled The Dance of Change: The Challenge to Sustaining Momentum in Learning Organizations. He writes about challenges Leaders often face during initiation of change management projects like:
- "We don't have time for this stuff!"
- "We have no help!"
- "This stuff isn't relevant!"
- "They're not walking the talk!"
Leaders must learn how to cope with these and other challenges in order to be effective. Many of us scratch our heads when we face these challenges for the first time, but no worries... that's part of the process.
Spotting opportunities: Opportunities come in many forms. The phrase "making lemonade out of lemons" has scrolled across the front of my brain more times that I can count in my career. It requires a special skill to be able to see the opportunity in just about everything that comes our way. An absolute disaster can be turned into one of the greatest learning, teaching or resource acquiring events of the year!
I remember when a skunk crawled into a transformer box on the Army Post I was working as the CIO for Navy Medical Logistics. That skunk not only ruined it's day and created a massive stink, but it shorted out the power to two buildings I was responsible for. It surged power into aging laptops, battery backup systems, servers... we lost hundreds of thousands of dollars in a few twitches of a skunk's tail - not to mention the impact on the mission when no one could do their work.
My reaction was nearly instant and initially a little confusing to my staff. They watched in horror as the lights flickered, servers crashed without ceremony, and screens went black. We were experiencing a meltdown. As soon as we understood we were in no danger, I pulled a stack of notebooks and pens off the supply shelf. I handed a set to each staff member along with an assignment: Cover every floor, the server room, the closets, and the outside. Record everything you see that happened as a result of this outage: times, locations, sequences of events, equipment, etc. Report back in one hour.
It turns out that there is a disaster fund available for the asking in cases of true disasters. I figured correctly that our skunk created a disaster - one worthy of funds. At the end of that exercise, we had more money flowing in than we had in a long time. The Commanding Officer and Comptrollers were happy because we got all new equipment that didn't cost them a dime from regular sources.
Encouraging managers to create new value-added projects: Entrepreneurship doesn't end with the Leader. A Leader must be able to extend the entrepreneur mind set to managers. The very things that make entrepreneurial endeavors value added can become liabilities if they are limited to a single leader. If a leader disappears for whatever reason, the organization left behind can be left in a lurch. It is very important to help managers develop their own entrepreneurial skills and give them the freedom to explore on their own.
A recent example from my own history: I gave a sharp employee the responsibility for creating a new customer research and engagement capability. She was new to my organization and came to me often for advice. A lot of her initial questions revolved around a "what should I do next" theme. She was used to and expected a prescription. I refused to give it to her.
What she got instead - in addition to my telling her to get out of the office, telework, and look in on our organization as a customer would - was the power to use her skills (she had a lot of them) to uncover what needed to be done and go do it. I made sure she understood the intent and desired outcome, but I made the "how" a part of her new job. I got a product that was ten times better than it would have been if I had created it myself.
As you pursue your own journey up the leadership ladder, it's important to remember the entrepreneur and what entrepreneurial mindset can do for you and the people you serve. Tap your inner entrepreneur! It'll make you a better leader.