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October 9, 2017

Three Ways Every Leader Should Be More Entrepreneurial

Entrepreneurs have long been lauded for their willingness to experiment, their tenacity to create something from nothing, and their hyper-agility to maneuver around unforeseen obstacles. But not every leader is cut out to be an entrepreneur in the start-up world. Larger and more mature organizations have made attempts to help their leaders become more “entrepreneurial,” but how do you really adapt that skillset and orientation to organizations and markets who’ve grown past their entrepreneurial roots?

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I spoke with Dorie Clark, author of Entrepreneurial You: Monetize your Expertise, Create Multiple Income Streams, and Thrive, (released this week) about how every leader can develop and apply critical entrepreneurial traits for any organizational setting in which you are leading others. Here are three that especially stand out as capabilities all leaders could benefit from developing. (This is the second of my two-part series with Dorie- last week we discussed why everyone needs a portfolio career).

 Use thought leadership to advance your agenda. Whether to financiers or untapped markets, great entrepreneurs must convince others their ideas have merit. Says Clark, “Just like entrepreneurs, leaders must communicate their vision in compelling ways in order to galvanize their people around it. While traditional mechanism like email, video conference, and town hall meetings help send a leader’s message, they don’t always allow for others to engage that message in order to build personal ownership for it.” Entrepreneurs take great advantage of thought leadership to set themselves, and their ideas, apart in order to strengthen their credibility. Whether through podcasting, blogging, or writing for established, trusted media channels, they have to share the merits of their ideas in convincing ways. Clark says, “I’ve seen many leaders in global organizations use these mechanisms to convey their priorities and values. By conveying what’s important to you, how you think, and where you hope the organization is heading, you build other’s confidence in your vision, offer insights that help your people grow and learn, and potentially reach a wider audience of those you lead who may be in remote locations around the world.”

Mechanisms like internal blogs or podcasts also allow for two-way engagement, so you get immediate feedback on how others hear and understand your ideas. Further, thought leadership helps you stay relevant within your organization. Clark adds, “It’s often difficult to be a prophet in your own land, and you and your ideas can be taken for granted within your organization. But if your reputation outside the organization is bolstered by being published in established external media outlets or as a guest on other blogger’s sites, the respect you earn externally amplifies the respect you have internally.” Finally, by having to codify your ideas, leaders have the opportunity to refine and sharpen their thinking before communicating them. Too many leaders “make it up as they go” and dilute the power of great ideas by communicating them unclearly and unconvincingly.

 Use outside-in thinking to develop ideas. It’s common for leaders in established organizations to presumptuously attempt to implement untested ideas. Says Clark, “ I see too many leaders waste thousands of hours perfecting something nobody wants . It’s far better to start from a different place – don’t create what you think is amazing, but master the art of listening to your stakeholders first.” Great entrepreneurs take a market-back approach – they do the research to isolate the most important unmet needs of those they want to serve, and build from there. Whether you are working on a new product for your customers, or a new process or approach for your organization, start with those you believe will most benefit from it and work back to cultivate your idea. That way you have the opportunity to course correct, adapt, and refine as you go, rather than adding to the common pile of unimplemented ideas and failed change efforts your organization has already accumulated. Clark says, “I interviewed Bozi Dar for my book, a successful marketing executive in a Fortune 500 life sciences company. Fascinated by entrepreneurship, he tried developing an app in 2013, and although it didn’t turn a profit, it yielded invaluable lessons for him. The following year he applied those lessons to the development of an online course on how to get promoted within your company, which has been very successful. But he said the biggest benefits have been in his day job, where his new found knowledge of digital technology has helped him reinvent himself. He now sees himself as an “intrepreneur, ” able to innovate within a large company whose teams and resources allow him to tackle high profile, complex challenges he feels he could not work on successfully as an entrepreneur.” Had Bozi not parlayed his early insights from his first attempt to develop an app into the subsequent wisdom about innovating within a large organization, he, and his company, would have forfeited invaluable opportunity.

Challenge deeply held assumptions. Great entrepreneurs start with the question, “How will my idea be different from what’s already out there, and why would people choose me over other similar ideas?” By asking this question, they are forced to challenge conventional thinking. Clark says, “Too many leaders are held back by the assumption that what they want to accomplish has already been tried before, or that their organization would never adopt their idea because it departs too sharply from how the organization has traditionally operated. By being held captive to such beliefs, leaders forfeit the chance to influence breakthrough ideas that could advance their organization’s strategy or their team’s performance.” Many large organizations suffer from “not invented here” mind guards that hijack great ideas with autoimmune responses like, “This is how we’ve always done things here. If it’s not broken, why change it?” or “We’ve tried something like that before, and it failed.”

One executive I’ve worked with for years just began a role at a new company where he heads up Growth & Strategy. The company had a long tradition of success, and felt little need to be more externally focused. Clark says, “There are few industries not facing some type of disruptive force, whether digital technology, regulatory, or geo-political influences, any notion of ‘steady state’ is a much shorter lived season than it ever used to be.” One deeply held assumption in my client’s new company was that their largest and most profitable category should always be their top priority, and the exploration of new customer segments a lesser priority. He brought in compelling fact bases that showed decline in their traditional market, and growth in markets they could serve, but weren’t, because they hadn’t developed relevant offerings for them, nor had they learned to sell to them. Forcing his company to suspend disbelief, he brought in executives from several companies in those untapped market segments to talk about unmet needs for which they desperately needed solutions. Suddenly, the long held assumption that such markets had no need or interest in their products shifted to the recognition of an enormous opportunity to pursue.” By challenging long-held assumptions about how best to grow, my client introduced global growth opportunities his company had long ignored.

If you are a leader in an established organization, how have you tried to creatively convey your vision and ideas, what untested ideas have you struggled to get adopted, and what assumptions about your leadership need to be tested? While not every leader can or should be an entrepreneur, you can, and should employ more entrepreneurial behavior to drive performance within your organization. Where will you start?

This article was written by Ron Carucci and originally appeared on Forbes, 10/2/17

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