Entrepreneurial Leadership

YOU don’t have to be an entrepreneur to be an entrepreneurial leader. Entrepreneurial leadership is a mindset. It is a mindset that is even more critical in today’s unstable world and is the sine qua non of crisis leadership.

Joel Peterson has been around the block serving as a leader in various roles—CEO, CFO, founder, investor, entrepreneur—and is currently the chairman of JetBlue Airways and a professor at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business. Throughout it all, he says, he’s been lost more than once. “I’ve relied on more than one rescuer. And I’ve occasionally had to turn back, to recalibrate, to reboot. But over time, I’ve learned what to do—and how to think—when things don’t go as planned. I’ve figured out how to survive betrayal, miscalculation, and just plain bad luck. I’ve learned both how to live with disappointment and how to keep the occasional success from changing my values.”

Through all of this, he’s “developed a framework—a set of principles, mindsets, and self-talk—that may help others on their quests.” He shares these in Entrepreneurial Leadership: The Art of Launching New Ventures, Inspiring Others, and Running Stuff.

Five Types of Leadership

To begin, he differentiates between five types of leadership: The Presider preside over the status quo and is a wise steward over the assets of the firm. The Manager excels at managing teams and delivering results without a limited focus on organizational strategy or trajectory. The Administrator manages process with predictability and efficiency. The Pure Entrepreneur starts things, innovates, and pilots with a mind to the future but often finds it difficult to scale or turn around a faltering organization. The Politician compromises, rationalizes, debates, and legislates and is skilled with the use of power.

Peterson encourages the development of Entrepreneurial Leadership because these leaders are able to shift from one of the above styles to another as needed. In addition, they “demonstrate a particular mindset and approach to problem-solving. They are change agents. They are intentional, staying true to their vision and agenda rather than only reacting to day-to-day turbulence.” They are stewards and see their work as transformative. “Their work is messy, largely intangible, and never-ending. Each day brings new problems and new decisions that present ambiguity and shades of gray.” This type of forward-thinking, nimble leadership is needed now more than ever.

Develop Your Leadership Around Four Activities

He organizes his thoughts, approaches, and mindsets around four categories—four essential basecamps on the way to the peak of entrepreneurial leadership:

1. Build Trust

2. Create a Mission

3. Secure a Team

4. Deliver Results

Entrepreneurial leaders build trust by knowing your core values—those things you spend your time, money, and mind share. And ask are any of these values getting in the way of your effectiveness. What guides your everyday actions? What is your personal operating system? “Next to knowing one’s core values, the most important attribute an entrepreneurial leader can possess is a predictable, reliable, and intentional personal operating system. If that operating system isn’t yet as reliable as the leader wants, refining it to that point should be a priority.”

To create a mission, you have to describe three things that are unique about you: what you do, How you do it, and who you are. Set Memorable, Aligned, and Doable goals. In his entrepreneurial leadership classes, Peterson always asks his students: “What are you solving for? What is your objective?”

Those who have clarity around winning tend to listen. They tend to compromise, to allow other parties to win, to sort out conflicts, and to arrive at solutions that allow everyone to move on. This means that entrepreneurial leaders are rarely perfectionists. Instead, they are practical problem solvers who keep their eyes on primary objectives. He most successful among them pursue strategies that are relentlessly aimed at achieving measurable results consistent with core values.

Entrepreneurial leaders secure a team by hiring great people for values consistency and demonstrating effective attitudes—likability, gratitude, joyfulness, humility, humor—in their interactions.

Delivering results is a matter of executing well on a number of challenges. Peterson covers ten of the most predictable: making decisions, selling, negotiating, raising capital, communicating, meetings, board relationships, overcoming adversity, surviving growth, and driving change.

If you’re making a lot of easy calls, you’ve failed to delegate. Most of the decisions you make personally should be close calls.

Sales is about figuring people out. Great salespeople don’t push products—they listen. They solve problems. And they do it all by providing solutions that are worth more to customers then they cost.

Interview potential sources of capital the way you would a new recruit. They bring more than just capital. The best bring ideas, contacts, and support. The worst bring headaches.

Entrepreneurial leaders communicate from a mind-set of participation, not control.

Unless it is clear why each person is vital to the meeting, don’t invite them.

Where love exists, change can be permanent.

A good entrepreneur will avoid the founder’s trap. In all likelihood, the company will grow beyond the capabilities of the founder and a founder should be prepared to turn it over to someone else at some point in time. Staying around past that point can ruin the company.

Being an entrepreneurial leader can be exciting work, but becoming one “demands personal growth—no matter where you start—and along the way, you’ll likely discover more about the person you’d like to be and the meaningful work you want to do.”

The world needs more entrepreneurial leaders to bring sustainable results.

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