In building successful businesses, I find that creating a new and innovative product or service is usually the easy part. The hard part is providing the leadership required to align and motivate all the constituents and players - from engineers, to investors, vendors, and ultimately customers. Great entrepreneurs are not just idea people and then managers, they are extraordinary leaders.
Most investors admit that they invest primarily in people, not ideas, and they inherently believe that they can sense this leadership ability needed to get the rapid growth and 10x return we all strive for. Yet beyond a list of noble attributes, like vision, courage, and integrity, it's hard for them to define what separates an ordinary entrepreneur or manager from an extraordinary leader.
Demonstrates a burning ambition and a burning platform (fire metaphor). These are the forces that initiate and sustain transformation efforts. The top two on the personal side are "urgency" and "desire," but these have to be matched on the business side with the willingness to burn the platform (change any aspect of the business) without a crisis.
Sense of accountability and momentum (snowball metaphor). This means no excuses and no rationalization, sweeping team members into mutual accountability. The leader then builds momentum from small successes into a snowball that will grow into a large, powerful, and eventually unstoppable business. Have you addressed all sources of drag or friction on your snowball?
Artfully applies tools, and strategies for change (master chef metaphor). New entrepreneurs are really amateur chefs learning to cook a new business. Existing business frameworks are the recipes, and great entrepreneurs creatively use new tools and strategies to hone these frameworks, just like a master chef.
Works with other team members on mutual aspirations (coach metaphor). It is not about leaders becoming coaches; it's about leaders letting themselves be coached by others - advisors, team members, and even customers. A team's captain is dependent on the support of their teammates, requiring trust and respect from both parties, and humility on the part of the leader.
Does not mask authentic self, values, and aspirations (mask metaphor). Too many entrepreneurs put on a mask to conceal personal imperfections, or they adopt an identity not aligned with their authentic self, values, and aspirations. This façade is a burden soon recognized, so dropping the mask is more effective, as well as more comfortable and more fun.
Enhance their self-awareness and edit their own performance (movie metaphor). Great entrepreneurs recognize that leadership is like a movie, and it can be honed and improved by disciplined reflection (see yourself as others see you), edited for impact, and directed by experts on your team. Reflect on how often you operate from judgment as opposed to perception. Think about who could help you reflect-on-action.
I saw a new approach in the book "Leadership Transformed: How Ordinary Managers Become Extraordinary Leaders," by Dr. Peter Fuda a while back, which identifies seven leadership themes, presented as metaphors. I believe these will really help anyone recognize great leaders, and even more importantly, accelerate their own entrepreneur leadership transformation:
Embed their personal journey within the business journey (Russian dolls metaphor). Business is really a set of journeys that interact with an entrepreneur's personal journey. Up-line this may be your interaction with your Board, investors, and family. Down-line it's the leadership model you use with your internal teams and external partners. Focus on improving your up-line and down-line dolls with your personal journey.
In addition, here are five strategies that Dr. Fuda and I both agree will lead to a more empowering approach to entrepreneur leadership, and help you optimize all the themes described above :
Spend more time showing others what is required, rather than telling them.
Focus more on collaborating with others, rather than competing.
Evolve from guru to guide, and coaching others to find answers for themselves.
Move from critic to cheerleader, from what is going wrong to what is going right.
- Shift your focus from your business content to market context.
If you are an investor, you need to recognize and mentor entrepreneurs to extraordinary leadership. If you are a startup Founder or executive, you need to strive continually to change yourself and your business to build and maintain the leadership you need to out-perform your competition, and generate the results to meet personal and financial objectives. How many of these themes and strategies are you practicing today?
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