Evolving From Employees to Entrepreneurs

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The world is changing significantly.  Some industries are feeling it more than others at the moment.  However, with emerging technologies, the shifting of talent availability, expectations and skill sets, and fluctuating markets, we can be almost certain that no industry will be immune.  That’s not new information though, so why is it blogworthy today?

Over the last few months, we’ve had many conversations with leaders about the sustainability of their organizations.  As we have teased out the source of their concern, one common thread is woven through each of these discussions. The high potential leaders within these organizations aren’t yet thinking like or demonstrating the entrepreneurial behaviors needed for a company to survive and compete in the future, and they are running out of time.

There are two primary dynamic forces at play:  

  • First, Baby Boomers are either facing retirement now or can see it hovering in the horizon. The first round of Generation X isn’t far behind. In fact, many organizations can see that the lineup of their leadership will completely turn over in the next decade. In both of those more seasoned generations, significant producers, revenue generators, and entrepreneurial thinkers have planted the seeds that have grown organizations to where they are today. They’ve been so successful that the following generations rose to the top with them, but they weren’t required to do the heavy lifting it took to start the growth curve or maintain it.

  • Second, massive change and disruption are occurring in certain markets that will create significant business impact over the next five years. There is a growing global nature to every business –whether it is deemed “international” or not.  Thus, that next wave of leaders will be facing many challenges not encountered or perhaps not experienced previously. Their bread and butter, cash cow products, and services that exist today are likely to be commoditized, resulting in an increase in pressure to create new competitive advantages, products, and lines of service.  New business models will also be in demand to serve the growing gig economy and the forecasts for increasing platforms of collaboration and coordination, or simply just for survival.

In short, the leaders of tomorrow will be called upon to be more like entrepreneurs than ever before. Whether they are in a firm where they become owners or in a corporation where they will reside in significant leadership roles, these up-and-comers must be able to run and grow a business in a dynamic environment.  They must be able to recognize opportunities (e.g., spot signals for innovation, generate ideas, create space for testing and failures, etc.), create demand, grow people, generate growth in revenue and profit, and scale products and services. In other words, they must grow from being an employee to becoming a resident entrepreneur within the organization.  

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The lesson for organizations and current leadership is to re-think and re-imagine their leadership development programs.  Leadership programs today are often centered around communication, people issues and development, strengthening targeted leadership characteristics or skills (e.g., EQ, conflict resolution, etc.), and business development.  

While those will still be critical skill development fields and have a shifting nature all their own, a new spotlight should be focused on developing leaders in:

  • Entrepreneurial thinking 

  • Foresight 

  • Change resiliency 

  • Globalization  

The crucial questions to ask yourself are:

  1. What kind of leaders are we building?

  2. Is our program creating future “functional” or “practice” leaders, or are we growing future “builders” - those who think like entrepreneurs and who have an “ownership” mentality, considering how to truly build a successful and sustainable organization?

  3. How are we developing entrepreneurial thinking and behaviors?

Regardless of your answers, if you have potential gaps, start filling them now. Build your high potential employees into entrepreneurs – not so they can run their own company someday, but more importantly, so that they are available and capable of driving the success of yours. Your organization’s future depends on it.