Turning an Entrepreneur Into a Leader

By Justin Sachs

Many startups have a leadership problem. Although most entrepreneurs are driven and brilliant, they confuse their "know-how" for good leadership. From my own experience leading a company, I think it would help if the folks who pioneer things nowadays understood what works (and doesn't work) in terms of leadership.

Here's what the inventor, the engineer, the programmer and anyone else who wants to bring something new to the marketplace usually has issues with -- and how he or she can fix them.

Create a Shared Vision

Entrepreneurs are driven by a vision that keeps them alive and anxious to make it a reality. However, in the midst of all their drive and passion, they fail to realize that their investors, colleagues and staff don't see it the same way. They know the payoff isn't the same for them: The "what's in it for me" is a different measure -- a much smaller win.

To fix this, others must see their role in that picture. A promise in future equity helps, of course, but talented employees need engagement, communication and shared goals. They need to have a sense where they are now, and where they will be if they perform above standard protocol.

To some extent, this means assigning roles, but done smartly, it will encourage talented employees to create their roles. Such communication also builds the relationships that develop and retain talent: It negotiates how performance will align with ultimate goals, and identifies the metrics that will rate that employee's performance.

Exhibit Integrity and Transparency 

Many entrepreneurs strive to be like Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, Jeff Bezos or Sergey Brin. In trying to imitate them, entrepreneurs too often allow their drive and obsession to destroy anything that might slow their achievement. This assumes a bullying and micromanaging style of leadership.

True leaders, on the other hand, exhibit integrity and transparency. Their words, actions and supervision have a personal authenticity. Their style attracts rather than demands, and inspires rather than insists.

Entrepreneurs should start with a personal self-assessment of character issues, as well as knowledge, skills and abilities. Relentlessly optimistic, they should convince others to follow and participate. Leaders recognize and reward publicly and privately; they coach instead of criticize. As people of character, the stand out as people to follow.

Include Others at Every Growth Stage 

Entrepreneurs own their business and its vision, at the risk of making that ownership obsessive and exclusionary. At best, they recognize talent and divulge trade secrets, but only to the extent that it pays off for their business. This "partnership," however, excludes constructive criticism and valuable feedback. It also diminishes the organizational values of quality operations and fiduciary finances. For example, the entrepreneur will put aside the need to personally represent and sell the product or service involved. As reported in Harvard Business Review, "Salesmanship is central to the success of any young company, and entrepreneurs ignore this at their peril."

Leaders invite and involve others, and they're smarter to plan the segments or stages in evolution. For example, they develop a strategy that targets growth to X number of employees or $X-million in revenue. If they arrange the tactics to deliver on such strategy, it will include the seeds of the next stage.

Good leaders own their organization's DNA, but that shouldn't prohibit implementation of smart efficacious contributions by others. In fact, leaders smartly collaborate with talents they do not personally hold. Katie Holliday, writing for CNBC, suggests leaders should "hire people who have the confidence to question their decisions." Understanding their own genius and its borders, they secure the best in financial advice, marketing insights, operations expertise and people management.

Who Leaders Need to Be 

Making a leader of entrepreneurs starts once they know who they are. That is, they need to understand their own person, passion and emotional intelligence. They need to have a clear vision that gives purpose to their drive.

Leaders make sure they are not in the fight alone nor would the fight go well if they were. As entrepreneurs, they belong to a community where they can find value and profit if they are only open to it.

Justin Sachs is a highly-sought after business and marketing expert and CEO of Motivational Press, an industry-leading book publishing company.