Do you really need to be a great leader in order to become a great entrepreneur?
The question of leadership, and how much it actually means to entrepreneurs and their startups, is a hot topic up for debate. Some argue in favor of entrepreneurs becoming leaders first. They may argue that it’s better to work in positions where valuable leadership skills can be acquired and then transition into entrepreneurship. Others say it’s better to focus on the big picture. Leadership lessons will come in time, but the first priority should be to focus on results.
Who is right and who is wrong? Neither is wrong, in theory. Personally, however, I think it’s key to become a great leader before moving on to entrepreneurship. As a former lawyer turned small business owner, here are some of the lessons I learned from previous leadership roles that allowed me to earn respect and trust as a CEO.
Great leaders know how to be vulnerable
We live in a world where the so-called “best” leaders are stereotyped as having their eyes on the prize — and that’s it. Success in business generally means focusing on dollar signs and being “in it to win it.” So, why should great leaders eschew this behavior in favor of being the stripped down versions of themselves?
The conversation about vulnerability is similar to the one surrounding failure. Both are considered to be signs of weakness. In reality, being vulnerable is a sign that you’re a human being. Think about the leaders you know who don’t take themselves so seriously, and are honest about making mistakes. You probably appreciate and/or admire them for being so open and candid. These leaders have won your trust through vulnerability. It’s not a sign of weakness at all. It’s a sign that great leaders understand the learning process and know that growth is pivotal to becoming great entrepreneurs.
Great leaders have a team mentality
This goes beyond the phrase “there’s no ‘I’ in team.” Having a team mentality means thinking about your team before yourself. Great leaders focus first on how they can help their team members learn and grow, contribute to their day-to-day success, and inspire them to keep thinking outside of the box.
As time progresses, this also helps leaders to create a culture of innovation in the workplace. This can be passed down later on to entrepreneurial roles because there has already been such a great investment of time in your team.
Great leaders think holistically about the business
A great entrepreneur knows their goals for the business. In order to get there, however, they need to hone in on the details. This is where thinking holistically comes into play.
Thinking about a business holistically means going beyond looking at profits and loss and return on investment. Great leaders must consider all of the surrounding details. These include aspects like employee engagement, customer happiness and shareholder success. It’s a little like putting together a puzzle. All of these pieces allow you to formulate a strategy and drive execution.
Great leaders who think holistically are likely to spot areas that they cannot improve upon themselves. They’ll be able to identify individual leaders within these areas who are subject matter experts with the skills to drive each department forward.
In other words, great entrepreneurs see areas where talent can be hired and bring on the right people to help lead their business to success — all to benefit the big picture of their companies.
Originally published on Feb. 14, 2019.