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The secret to entrepreneurial leadership — even if you’re not an entrepreneur

4 min read


The U.S. has a love affair with entrepreneurship, and it’s no big surprise. Our founding mythology is built on the stories of loners, tribes and rebels. Entrepreneurship is the ultimate definition of modern freedom — accountability only to yourself. No more “workin’ for the man” (or wo-man). Entrepreneurs who have attained such freedom are powerful, and they don’t take guff from “the system.”

Those who’ve braved the entrepreneurial seas know it’s not always smooth sailing, of course. Cash flow has a way of sitting heavy on your freedom when it’s not flowing, and being a company of one can be pretty lonely sometimes. If you’re workin’ for the wo-man, I recommend you talk to some seasoned entrepreneurs before you jump ship from the cruise liner to the dingy. Make sure the course you’re about to set is the right one for you, your family and your lifestyle.

Having been in all boat sizes and having worked with clients in corporate, small-business and solopreneur situations, I have noticed a consistent quality of entrepreneurial leadership that transcends the tax structure with which you’re aligned, as well as title, authority and salary. It is the genuine feeling, infused into your business persona, of ownership.

Managers and leaders who truly own their decisions and their success are powerful. I’m not talking about making decisions as though “it’s your own money.” Money is a proxy for true ownership; it’s the currency of the game we play in business, but business deals in other things, too: service, benefits, value, results. When leaders truly own accountability for these things and own their decisions for how company resources are used to deliver them, then they tap into the power of entrepreneurial leadership.

This kind of personal ownership means unapologetically embracing personal risk along with business risk. It means knowing, accepting and embracing whom you are so your authentic self becomes the reason for success, even if that success doesn’t turn out to look like what you hoped or thought. It means striking and managing the balance between whom you are and whom your company demands that you be.

And in this final area, actual entrepreneurs do have a slight advantage in the eyes of many. A company guy or gal establishes an explicit agreement with the company, wherein both take on rights and obligations toward the other — obligations that freely entered into require the individual to “disown” some personal expression of authentic self — whether it’s dress code, frequent afternoon naps or that Jerry Maguire manifesto dying to get out.

The entrepreneur, on the other hand, makes no such contract with anyone. By contrast, many entrepreneurial success stories are built on the dynamic wherein the more authentic they are to the world around them, the more they own their quirks and the more they become attractive to their niche market, the better the business performs.

As I recall, it is this kind of freedom that is most desirable when you’re locked in a cube, wearing a tie or high heels and dealing with more paperwork than is healthy for you, your employees and your customers. Here’s my advice if this dream tugs at you. Practice the entrepreneurial-leadership skill of ownership before you jump ship. Learn the habit of unapologetic risk, responsibility and reward; your career and employer will benefit even if you never take the final leap.

But if you leap, in pursuit of that sail-into-the-sunset freedom and happiness in which your quirks deliver success, you’ll need to truly own the jump and every decision you ever make after that. Why not start now?