Imagine the best leader you know.
Everyone has one: someone who was motivating, collaborative, and kept the team moving toward a common goal. Perhaps this person had the authority of being a traditional leader, a boss or coach, for example. Or, it could be a peer who stepped up during an important project and thrived despite uncertainty and ambiguity.
Chances are, part of what made this person so effective was that they were an entrepreneurial leader.
When faced with the unknown, the best entrepreneurial leaders are good at experimenting, learning, and iterating. Compare this skillset to a more traditional “analyze, then act” leadership approach, and the difference is clear. A conventional leader might be great at assembling a puzzle when the picture is laid out to copy, while an entrepreneurial leader can dive in with no picture at all to start putting pieces together.
Defining Entrepreneurial Leadership
“Entrepreneurial leadership is a mindset that focuses organizations on turning problems into opportunities that create economic and social value,” says Babson College President Stephen Spinelli Jr. MBA’92, PhD.
For Professor Jay Rao, entrepreneurial leadership goes hand in hand with a relentless optimism about the world. “Entrepreneurial leaders are not just risk managers; they are ambidextrous and are experts at navigating uncertainty,” he says. “They have a positive outlook about the future, as they are always trying to improve things.”
Babson professor and researcher Nan Langowitz says the key is an openness to learning, and being able to mobilize others in your organization to do the same. “The best leaders are learners,” she says. “The more you can develop a learning mentality, the better you’ll be at staying open to hearing new ideas, considering contrary points of view, and arriving at improved decisions.”
Like entrepreneurs, entrepreneurial leaders are made, not born. It’s a muscle that can be developed with time and practice. According to D.R. Widder MBA’99, Babson’s vice president of innovation, budding entrepreneurial leaders share a handful of common characteristics:
- Entrepreneurial leaders want to solve problems collaboratively
- Entrepreneurial leaders value action and are outcomes-oriented
- Entrepreneurial leaders believe that things can be better, and that they can make an impact
“Entrepreneurial leaders are able to lead from any position. They know leadership doesn’t always come from the top, and it comes from action, not hierarchy,” says Widder. “These people are high performance, collaborative problem solvers and are broadly needed in all industries.”
And today more than ever before, these leaders are needed in all sectors. Benjamin Davis, a graduate student, puts it this way: “At this specific moment, with COVID stressing the business world many small businesses will not be able to survive. However, it’s those small businesses that have the freedom and innocence to innovate and change the world. Entrepreneurial leaders are the catalyst for the next wave of game changing ideas.”
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