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22 2012

Entrepreneurship versus Leadership

Syndicated from: balance-AND-results

In the usual cacophony of competing claims about these issues it’s great to read a piece that is simple, concise and clear. Coaches Rich Russakoff and Mary Goodman nailed it in an article for CBS Money Sense (link below). Entrepreneurs, they say, are ‘lone wolf’ visionaries who make grand, risky promises they often can’t keep, thus letting people down as many or more times than they hit it big. Leaders, on the other hand (effective ones at least) work through and as part of teams. The good ones are ‘humble’ as Jim Collins observed because they recognize everyone contributes and they are just one among many. Although they may be ‘lead dog,’ a dog is still one of the dogs. From this succinct description, you can draw a number of observations. Who wants to be a dog if you can be a wolf? Just in that seemingly silly comparison alone is captured a key reason why we revere the knight on the white horse CEO who is expected to ride in and fix everything – knights, like wolves, are seen as lone operators. Isn’t it odd how we create these metaphors, ignoring that wolves typically hunt in packs? No matter, it’s that image of greater aggressiveness and ‘doing exactly what you want without limitations of cooperating with others’ that we focus on. In reality knights needed elaborate teams to make them successful, dress them and get them on their horses, too, yet we bypass that in our thinking. The only thing I disagreed with in this article is the characterization of Steve Jobs as one of the rare people who could meld both entrepreneurship and leadership successfully. Without beating this too hard, if you read some of the biographical material about Jobs, you soon see a pretty pure entrepreneur. Ultimately he returned to Apple, the company he founded, where he had to be fired previously due to his lack of cooperation, let alone effective leadership. Was he a better leader on his return or had he simply learned finally to let others handle such ‘details’ while he continued to drive the entrepreneurial promises of tinier, consumer-friendly machines to be delivered on deadlines no one else thought possible? Being first in the market is definitely an entrepreneur’s dream and promise they may not be able to keep, not necessarily a leadership vision. Luckily Jobs later tenure at Apple was heading an already seasoned team. So should we be duped by Jobs spectacular success into honoring entrepreneurship over leadership? Or does it have to be one or the other? In my own career I once led a startup where we attempted to build a leadership team to support and further the entrepreneurial vision and style of one individual who had a gift for deal-making. It would have worked well even after we discovered he’d lied to us about the profitability of many new, large clients we were setting up with. Within a year or so of learning the truth we could have made them profitable, but in his drive to be the lone wolf, mister entrepreneur kept reporting to the CEO above us that our operation would lose money because ‘those guys in the lead’ had allowed non-profitable clients to be taken on. Get the picture? It didn’t matter we were his colleagues and, so he kept assuring us, friends. He was willing to shaft us so he could be seen as the honest one when the CEO asked him how things were going. It didn’t matter we took on those clients because of his wild lies to us about big profits, nor could he trust that we’d catch up and fix things so they worked. Ultimately we couldn’t survive in a turbulent environment. Talk about the frog and the scorpion. Personally I’d rather seek effective leaders in the top spot who have the courage and risk-taking ability to promote the ideas of subordinates who have an entrepreneurial streak than try to work with an entrepreneur in the top spot who can countermand the common sense solutions his leadership team attempts to put in place. But you see the conundrum. Whichever is the top boss needs a team that includes the other skill set. It is indeed rare to find any one person with both although I do agree with Russakoff and Goodman when they include Kelleher of Southwest Air and Walton of Walmart. It seems futile to spend much time looking for the extremely rare combination in one person. Better to spend it building succession plans that put the right mix together, with the right person at the top. and, ideally, a team of people who understand their strengths and weaknesses and how to help everyone function productively together. As always we will never be perfect, so erring one way or the other is the norm and not fatal as long as one can recognize and fix mistakes. Bookmark and share this post More »

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