The Advancing Leadership Blog

When Winging It Won’t Cut It

With this week being Global Entrepreneurship Week, there is significant focus on entrepreneurs at the beginning of their careers, at the start-up point. But with the success of a start-up comes new challenges for the entrepreneur – most notably that of creating a sustainable, professional business.

Making the leap from start-up to going concern

The challenge – and opportunity – for an entrepreneur is learning how to take themselves from the bootstraps start-up up to the professionally managed company. Many entrepreneurs come to TEC from a place where they’ve had high growth. They’ve had a dream, started the company as their own, and then after that, hired people.

It is in the nature of an entrepreneur to be able to “wing it”. Entrepreneurs are people who have can-do attitudes; they get up in the morning and see that the world is full of possibilities, so with their dream and vision, off they go! Then one day they wake up and discover that they have a whole heap of people around them. It is often a loose group of employees, systems and processes – a situation they know is not sustainable. They know that if they actually want to build a sustainable enterprise with long-term value, they’re going to have to change something about the way they’re operating.

Many entrepreneurs come into TEC at that point because they’re being faced with big decisions around growth or management – things they don’t have any experience with. And they know that by sitting around a table with a group of peers they can get some great guidance on how to make that leap and build themselves a really sustainable enterprise.

Recurring challenges for growing entrepreneurs

Frequently, the biggest challenge for most entrepreneurs is to let go. Entrepreneurs usually have high goals, dreams, aspirations and standards that can sometimes look like control or perfectionism. Those are behaviours that you can change and adapt and all entrepreneurs will have to if they want to build a sustainable enterprise. Everything can’t come from a single person any more, and often you will know that at some level.

But what does that really mean for how you lead? It isn’t about delegation. That is a management skill more so than a leadership skill. It’s about learning how to lead people: How do you build a team? Empower that team? Recognize each person as an individual and the contribution they can make? A good team with strong leadership can come together and be the lift under the organization so you don’t have to do it all by yourself.

Most people know they need to do that, but it is a constant leadership challenge as you grow, not just from that raw entrepreneur, to the first baby steps of being a professionally-managed company, but even after all my years in business I still wrestle with it: What is my role as a leader? How do I build a team around me that can be part of the solution, part of the vision? What is my relationship with that team?

This is a constant leadership challenge, an ongoing question of leadership. You don’t become a leader and that’s it, you’re done.  When you are a leader there is a constant question and challenge around your role and contribution. Leading is an activity – it’s active, not passive – and you’re always asking and answering questions: What’s that step to take at this point? What does the organization need? What do the people need? It is ongoing, and we’ll go to our graves with that as leaders.

Another aspect to the ongoing challenge of being a great leader is developing followership, and making that shift from being an inspirer to being a leader with followers. Leaders are able to inspire others, but they also have to develop people who want to follow them. People who can trust them, will buy into the vision, and are provided room to grow and contribute.  Followership is critical to being a great leader.

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