Monday, May 16, 2016

The Entrepreneur as Leader -- Part 1


Innovators and entrepreneurs are distinctly different than inventors.  Beyond discovering new knowledge and IP, entrepreneurs translate ideas and IP into customer solutions that generate economic and/or social value.  This translation of ideas into commercial impact is an iterative and messy journey that requires not only domain knowledge and passion, but also real leadership ability.

Innovation leaders typically are passionate about their ideas and jump boldly into the process of searching for a viable business model to commercialize them.  While this is the work of innovation and entrepreneurship, no one can be successful alone.  Each stage of the commercialization journey requires expertise, experience and/or capabilities beyond those of the entrepreneur him or herself. 

However, this is almost never true.  
Innovation and entrepreneurship are inherently social and collaborative endeavors.

To successfully lead the search for a viable business model, and then the process of executing and scaling the business, we must first learn to lead ourselves.  We must leverage our strengths and develop a network of others who have strength where we do not.  We must learn to persist against the odds and value learning and adapting over being right. We must be confident--but not arrogant--AND maintain and a deep appreciation for learning as we go.  In essence, we need to BE positive, agile, and persistent learner-doers who actively engage and learn from other key stakeholders.  Self-leadership requires deep self-awareness and self-management and is the foundation for success. This is personal competence. As Sir Edmund Hillary reminds us, “It is not the mountain we conquer but ourselves."

Building on a foundation of strong self-leadership, we must be able to lead and influence others.  Innovation leaders typically have a big idea and few or no resources.  This requires us to inspire volunteers and mentors to help out of shared passion for the idea, to enlist key partners who have capabilities we need, and to convince potential investors to support us.   Even when we do aquire resources we must remember that leadership is action, not position. Telling someone to do something may cause compliance at best; inspiring them to do something generates commitment—and the difference in engagement and effort is huge.  This is social competence.  In the words of Ken Blanchard: “The key to successful leadership today is influence, not authority.”

Because we can’t build a successful business venture without these prerequisite leadership abilities, my monthly blog posts over the coming months will focus on these important leadership abilities.  Next month’s topic:  four differentiating leadership abilities for innovation leaders.  Until then, I’ll leave you with a quote from Peter Drucker that I suspect resonates given your own experience: