Sunday, October 10, 2021

How to turn an entrepreneur into a leader of leaders?

What does it mean to be an entrepreneur? The romantic idea of that indefatigable genius who lights up a business idea and manages to carry it out against all odds, thanks to his talent, audacity, effort, enthusiasm and stubbornness is one of the representations that has most strongly permeated the collective imagination. Add to that standard a dash of digitalization, a handful of networking and a couple of spoonfuls of personal charisma, communication skills and multitasking ability and you have the perfect image of the new entrepreneur. If Netflix or HBO were to conceive a TV series about entrepreneurship, surely the screenwriters in charge of creating the characters would have all these traits written down in the initial design of their protagonist.

This cliché is not an entirely unfair or far-fetched image. In fact, it is based on a fairly reliable version of what a flesh-and-blood entrepreneur might look like. In fact, that collection of characteristics would be very good starting equipment for tackling the adventure of launching an entrepreneurial project. But while these qualities are appropriate and necessary, they are not all that is needed to succeed in the new business environment. Being an entrepreneur means much more than brilliance, tenacity or an overwhelming personality. It also implies possessing an essential characteristic to lead a collective initiative such as a company to success: leadership skills. Yes, because, although the entrepreneur often begins his journey alone, if his vision is right and his steps are correct, he will soon be joined by others who will follow him. And in order for them to follow him, the entrepreneur needs to lead. And create leaders to accompany him on his journey.

The true entrepreneur, not only the dreamer, the one who also has the mind of an entrepreneur, will also need to be a leader.

Because to lead is to make things happen. This conception leaves out of the equation the vision of the entrepreneur as a person who has a great idea and that is enough. Life is full of great ideas. But only when those ideas have someone behind them who is capable of materializing them do they have the power to change the world. It could be said that ideas do not belong to those who have them, but to those who make them real, to those who carry them out.  There are people who are very good at generating concepts, but not so good at executing them. People with a great entrepreneurial mind, but who lack an entrepreneurial mind.

Entrepreneur-leader

There are a series of keys that help explain what makes an entrepreneur a good leader, keys that I set out in my book Welcome to the 4.0 Revolution. These key ideas are:

1) Always listen to everyone with an open mind. The entrepreneur-leader constantly practices generative or participatory listening, especially with those who think differently. The ideas that can most contribute and enrich an entrepreneur and his business project are precisely those that disagree with or question one's own beliefs and opinions.

2) Encourage diversity, difference and curiosity as values. The leader-entrepreneur has the ability to attract talent to the organization and facilitate its development within it. He/she knows how to create a team and make people feel that they are an essential part of it.

3) He moves away from negative stress. He stops seeing the environment as hostile and avoids excuses or gossip. Instead, he practices inspirational leadership that focuses on the positive parts of people and how the project can benefit society as a whole.

4) He knows his environment well. He deepens his study and intimate knowledge of rivals and friends. He is aware that talent has a technical and a human dimension, and takes care of these two facets equally, facilitating their growth.

5) He thinks about what his team needs before he thinks about what he needs. Therein lies the secret of green engagement.

The ability to create a team will be fundamental.

6) Measure your success by your ability to meet the needs of others and how well you meet their expectations. And make sure that vision is part of your own goals and aligned with your interests. He measures his success as a leader in terms of the optimism he manages to transmit to others and the loyalty he is able to generate in his team without having to ask for it.

7) Remains open to change and shows great resilience in the face of change. He facilitates the integration of these changes into the organization, adapts to them and turns them around to serve as inspiration and motivation for his team. He gives free rein to creativity and is able to contemplate reality and attack problems in an unusual way.  He lives with the mind of a continuous learner.

All of these elements of good leadership can be summed up in one that is especially true for an entrepreneur:

The primary function of a leader is to create more leaders.

Creating leaders

There comes a time in the life of any business project when the growth of the organization itself makes it necessary to change register and move on to another stage. It is a delicate moment for a company, because it means to stop doing things the way it has been doing them (successfully) and to start assuming greater risks. But it is also a transcendent moment that is unavoidable if the company wants to evolve. It is a stage in which the company enters unexplored and highly uncertain territories, and for which the capabilities of the original entrepreneur are no longer sufficient. It is necessary to incorporate new talents, to increase the team with complementary profiles, competencies and skills, to take the reins of the project and take it to the next level of evolution.

In this situation, the entrepreneur has three options. He can step aside and let someone else take his place at the helm of the company, an option that is not usually the norm. He can also help new leaders to sprout within the organization, people who were already part of the team or who have arrived from outside, so that they can take on greater responsibilities in the project and add their efforts and willpower to it. And finally, it can surround itself with a network of partners who, as external partners, bring new capabilities to complement its own.

One of the ways for the entrepreneur to create these other leaders to help him co-direct his increasingly complex ship is through Paul Hersey and Ken Blanchar's situational leadership model. Created more than 50 years ago, this scheme proposes an in-depth look at each of the team members, to give them personalized attention according to their vital moment and the specific tasks they have to perform in their new responsibilities as co-leaders of the project. These four leadership styles are:

Instruction. Creating new leaders for the organization involves, first of all, teaching them how to be leaders. The entrepreneur will have to give instructions to his team, but not in the hierarchical sense of telling them what to do so that they can simply execute it, but rather in the sense of teaching them to face these situations autonomously and focusing not only on the 'hows' but also on the 'whys'.

Persuasion. The entrepreneur-leader wins by conviction, with arguments. He aligns his team through example and inspiration, and seeks the participation of its members in the search for consensual solutions for the benefit of the entire organization.

Participation. The substrate of all entrepreneurial action is the people who are part of it. An entrepreneurial project will grow exponentially when it transcends the vision of its founder and begins to incorporate the contributions of diverse and complementary talents. It will be a negotiating and consensus-building style.

Delegation. A good leader detects and evaluates the talent around him, and knows how to delegate to his people those tasks in which his collaborators are better than he is. The key is to know the people very well in order to give each one of them those tasks that they will do by themselves and without having to be asked.

The dreams and ideas of an entrepreneur will require a lot of effort to achieve success, also of a robust leadership model, creator of new leaders, experts in their fields, who will accompany him on the way and, above all, the use of one of the scarcest resources: time.

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