Entrepreneurial Leadership Part 2: 11 Characteristics of Entrepreneurial Leaders

Red boat, two blue boats

Welcome to the second blog post in this series about entrepreneurial leadership.

In my last post, Entrepreneurial Leadership: Why is it important? you read what it was and why we need it.  A key message was that entrepreneurial leaders need to embrace high levels of change. And they need to thrive on the unique challenges posed by growth. They need to be capable of adapting and continually developing themselves as well as the organisation.

In this post, you’ll discover the characteristics that help entrepreneurial leaders succeed.

Capabilities of Entrepreneurial Leaders

In 2008, the Center for Creative Leadership joined forces with Tata to research leadership in fast-growth companies.  They discovered that Entrepreneurial leadership is the result of a combination of strong motivation to achieve something and the capabilities to achieve it.

Those capabilities fall into three areas:

  1. Leading self. Entrepreneurial leaders need effective ways to manage their thoughts, emotions, actions, and attitudes. Specific capabilities include confidence; self-awareness; understanding and committing to life goals; and integrity.
  2. Leading others. Entrepreneurial leaders need interpersonal and social skills to influence people. Specific capabilities include managing and motivating subordinates; developing subordinates; and team management/development.
  3. Leading the business. Entrepreneurial leaders need the skills and behaviours to run a business and deliver results. Specific capabilities include execution and operational management. Also, innovation, creativity, and entrepreneurship; functional knowledge; and gathering information, knowledge, and insight.

Top 11 Characteristics of Entrepreneurial Leaders

Let’s look in more detail at what the leaders themselves judged to be the most important lessons they learned illustrated by some of the world’s most famous entrepreneurs.

  1. Confidence

Entrepreneurial leaders are in a situation where they are trying something new and they’re not sure of success.  They’re constantly stretching themselves and that requires confidence.  Confidence is equal to or even more important than competence to succeed as a leader.

Elon Musk’s confidence has got him into a bit of trouble recently.  But it has also helped him turn a pipe dream – an all-electric car company – into a viable business in a high-risk, high-cost industry.

  1. Self-Awareness

Self-Awareness is essential for Entrepreneurial Leadership. Leaders who have an understanding of their own emotions, personality, strengths and weaknesses can better engage with employees and clients

Oprah Winfrey says you need a level of self-awareness that only comes from connecting with your inner voice.  She calls it your emotional GPS system.

  1. Understanding and Committing to Life Goals

Entrepreneurial leaders allow their strong sense of passion and purpose to drive themselves and inspire those around them. This helps them stay focussed and motivates employees and partners to produce their best efforts to help make it a reality.

Before Harry Potter was a success, J K Rowling was a single mother struggling to make ends meet and battling severe depression.  Despite all her personal hardships, Rowling kept pursuing her dreams of becoming a writer.

  1. Integrity

Integrity is one of the most important qualities of entrepreneurial leadership.  It is about remaining true to one’s own values and vision and standing up for what they believe in, even in the face of opposition.

As Benjamin Franklin said, “I grew convinced that truth, sincerity and integrity in dealings between man and man were of the utmost importance to the felicity of life and I formed written resolutions to practice them over while I lived.”

  1. Managing and Motivating Subordinates

Managing and motivating people is probably one of the most important entrepreneurial leadership skills.  It directly influences productivity because of its impact on staff morale.

Virgin is famous for putting employees first.  Richard Branson’s philosophy is to put staff first, customers second and shareholders third.  He believes if you look after your people and give them the tools to do a good job, they’ll be proud of the brand and deliver a great experience to the customer.

  1. Developing Subordinates

Entrepreneurial leaders are committed to developing the people who work for them. They help employees develop their own talents and skills. They know it’s essential to help employees grow so that the business can flourish into the future

Larry Page became famous for co-founding Google, a company that literally changed the way the world learns.  He continues to drive and innovate by training and delegating.  He is able to put his ego aside and does not feel threatened by sharing authority.  He realises that he cannot do everything alone and that giving others authority will benefit the company over the long term.

  1. Team Management/Development

The cornerstone of a successful enterprise is strong and effective teams.  Entrepreneurial leaders ensure that team morale remains high.

In the early days of Amazon, Jeff Bezos instituted a rule that every internal team should be small enough that it can be fed with two pizzas.  The goal wasn’t to cut down on the catering bill.  It was focussed on two aims – efficiency and scalability.

  1. Execution and Operational Management

Execution and Operational Management play a vital role in the success of a company.  Entrepreneurial leaders need strategies that maximize productivity and effectively respond to fluctuations in demand.

The Walt Disney Company has been able to build an Operating Model that enables them to deliver on the promise “to make magical experiences come alive.”

  1. Innovation, Creativity and Entrepreneurship

Entrepreneurial leaders are constantly being creative and innovative to get better.

Steve Jobs built one of the world’s most lucrative companies out of his garage and introduced the world to technology it never knew it needed.  7 years after his death, he still has a lot to offer.  When he returned to Apple after a 12-year absence, Apple was close to bankruptcy.  That didn’t stop him from launching one innovative product after another.  He made the bold statement “The cure for Apple is not cost-cutting.  The cure for Apple is to innovate its way out of its current predicament.”

  1. Functional Knowledge

Entrepreneurial leaders need to have some basic functional knowledge.

Bill Gates frequently works with inventors and industry disrupters and reads books about the future of humanity. He concludes that people with knowledge of science, engineering and economics will be the future agents of change.  He says “It’s not necessarily that you’ll be writing code, but you need to know what engineers can and can’t do”.

  1. Gathering Information and Insight

Before an entrepreneurial leader is able to take action they need good information. It is vitally important to have information from different perspectives.  It is equally important to quickly draw insights and make decisions.

Mark Zuckerberg’s love of data has got him into a bit of trouble recently.  But he knows the power of information.  And it’s how he’s grown Facebook to its current success.

How entrepreneurial are your leaders?  If you’d like to learn more about how you can develop them, why not download a free chapter of my book Grow Your Geeks. A Handbook for Developing Leaders in High-Tech Organisations.  You can get it here www.antoinetteoglethorpe.com/grow-your-geeks


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