What makes a good leader great? To start, they’ve got a combination of what experts identify as the best leadership traits.
And, all of those traits roll up to one common theme: entrepreneurial leadership.
Ask the faculty and leadership at Babson College, known for entrepreneurial leadership development programs, and they’ll tell you that entrepreneurial leaders are strong risk managers. Exceptional uncertainty navigators. Skilled ambiguity explorers.
Combined, these three traits enable entrepreneurial leaders to take action, solve problems, and create value while others are still analyzing the situation.
With insight from Babson experts, let’s dive into three of the best leadership traits that define entrepreneurial leadership and explore what makes these leaders rise above the rest, especially in times of crisis.
One of the Best Leadership Traits? Navigating Uncertainty
Among the best leadership traits: the courage to think boldly and take action. This is an especially relevant entrepreneurial leadership style when uncertainty reigns supreme, like in the wake of COVID-19.
“Entrepreneurial leaders think boldly, armed only with limited data and constantly changing variables,” said Stephen Spinelli Jr. MBA’92, PhD, president of Babson College.
Spinelli points to an innovative approach to COVID-19 test creation as an example. Dr. Anthony Fauci described a “Shark Tank”-like process in which the National Institutes of Health (NIH) urged scientists and innovators to compete in a $500 million race to create new tests. The program was part of the Rapid Acceleration of Diagnostics initiative, a federal program created this week through $1.5 billion in stimulus funds.
It was, Spinelli said, a public call for innovation. “Utilizing an entrepreneurial approach to the world’s greatest and immediate need is exactly the kind of out-of-the-box thinking that could fast-track discovery which will save lives.”
Consider that innovation a requirement for navigating uncertainty, he says. It’s a necessary leadership skill for entrepreneurs.
“The process of innovation is never a straight line to the future,” Spinelli said. But, entrepreneurial leaders never stop pushing forward. “Along the way, entrepreneurs’ trials create lessons learned that share knowledge and pave the way for others. Sometimes, it’s the innovators just behind the indefatigable pioneers who ultimately achieve the objective.”
Entrepreneurial Leaders Are Skilled Ambiguity Explorers
“At its heart, entrepreneurial leadership is about problem solving,” said Babson Professor Jay Rao.
When faced with ambiguity, the best entrepreneurial leaders use innovation and creativity to find solutions. Consequently, entrepreneurial leaders can innovate their way into the future. And, the current global health crisis is kick-starting in organizations around the world those who are skilled ambiguity explorers.
For example, James Dyson, of vacuum cleaner fame, designed a new ventilator in just 10 days. Ford, GM, and Tesla are teaming up to produce ventilators for GE. Google and Apple are collaborating on contact tracing efforts for COVID-19. In every industry, organizations are bringing their most creative and solution-oriented ideas to market in record time.
“Entrepreneurial leaders are some of the fastest learners because they are among the best experimenters. They aren’t worried about being wrong, but will very quickly change directions when they are. They know inaction is worse than making a mistake.”
Strong Leaders Are Strong Risk Managers
Leadership is rarely smooth or predictable. The ability to adeptly navigate uncertainty and explore ambiguity often means the best leaders are strong risk managers, too.
It all adds up to a leader unafraid to take action and learn, even when risk is involved. It’s one of the hallmark leadership qualities of an entrepreneur.
“Entrepreneurial leaders manage risk by obsessing over their customers,” says Rao. These leaders are on a constant mission to bust bureaucracy, all in the name of putting their customers first and enabling immediate customer service.
“Most recognize that one of the simplest ways to learn is to take a step, see what happens, adjust, and learn even faster,” said Nan Langowitz, professor at Babson. “They move forward, even into the unknowable, ready to learn.”
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