This column is part of Globe Careers’ Leadership Lab series, where executives and experts share their views and advice about leadership and management. Follow us at @Globe_Careers. Find all Leadership Lab stories at tgam.ca/leadershiplab
In many ways, the entrepreneurial mindset of risk, experimentation and learning while doing is better suited to today’s world of work than the “managerial” one of method and control. Many companies are trying to be more competitive by learning how to behave like startups, by being nimble and agile and by nurturing innovation and disruption from within. We are no longer in a time of slow-moving competitive forces, but instead inhabit a dynamic, discontinuous and emergent landscape. This is also a time of unprecedented opportunities for individuals to strike out on their own.
The affordability and ubiquity of technology, the democratizing power of social networks, and the never-before seen ability to scale niche products and services on the Internet, has made it a lot easier to attract customers both locally and globally. In this environment of innovation and change, we all need to discover our inner entrepreneur.
I am not an entrepreneur myself, but before my current role, I spent 20 years working closely with successful founders and entrepreneurs who built companies ranging in sales from $10-million to $1-billion. Here are some commonalities that I found in most of them:
The capacity to grind it out
The initial burst of energy is easy – what comes after is not. Bruce Croxon, a successful Canadian entrepreneur, often says “It’s all about grinding it out.” This one is not just about having a Herculean work ethic, it’s about saying “yes” to ever-increasing pressure, and rising above fear and exhaustion, over and over and over again. It’s about scaling terrain that will become inhospitable at times. As in sports, results are determined in large part on player endurance, their mental and physical stamina.
A store of grit
Great athletes have grit. Teams with grit are those that play as if they still have a chance to win in the last minutes of the game, despite being down. I learned a lot about what competitive grit is from Mike Serbinis, founder and former chief executive officer of Kobo, a global leader in e-reading. He persevered despite near guaranteed odds against him. Grit is about not being overwhelmed by logic, resisting the impulse to settle and, not walking away. American self-improvement writer Napoleon Hill singles “not walking away prematurely” as the most defining characteristic of successful people.
A talent for selling
All great entrepreneurs I know are gifted sales people. Sales is one skill that is a must with every step of the entrepreneurial journey. Entrepreneurs persuade, influence and sell as a way to garner support, generate enthusiasm and inspire people around them.
An openness to change
When presented with new opinions, evidence, or points of view, most of us immediately try and fit it within our existing framework of assumptions and understanding about the world. If it does not fit, we oppose it. We look for consonance and reject, and often literally edit out, anything that doesn’t cohere. I noticed that the successful entrepreneurs do quite the opposite – they look for ways to challenge the current position. They have the capacity to hold the tension between opposing views or ambiguity and examine it with curiosity and open mind. This is what enables them to pivot, to change course, and to abandon previously loved paths. They allow themselves to be changed.
A sense of certainty
How do you hold a certainty about an outcome on the road of utter uncertainty that you also fully embrace, paradoxically? Seeing this trait, more than any other, convinced me about human possibility of mind over matter. We are all plagued by doubt – the ability to rise above this pervasive human inclination and feel certainty is a powerful creative stance on the road to making your dreams happen.
A penchant for independent thought
Successful entrepreneurs I know are all independent thinkers. I owe my first job in Canada to two entrepreneurs who took a huge risk with me. The freedom to think for oneself is the root of creativity, and it’s why entrepreneurs see opportunities no one else does. Noticing and breaking our inner slavery to established wisdom and opinions, authority, norms and the advice of others, is to see areas of potential transformation.
An appetite for more
We all have different sizes of desire – some people are content with very little, while others want the world. Entrepreneurs have a big desire – to do, to get, to achieve, or to have an impact. A wise teacher once said a true desire is not about what we want, but about what we are willing to give up to get it. In other words, the willingness to do the work is the desire. Reaching for the impossible requires a huge effort. Sometimes that’s why we have trouble wanting something big. The positive-thinking movement talks about thinking-believing-feeling-expecting, but the missing ingredient is “doing.” Doing ties it all together – it’s about meeting the universe half way.