The Entrepreneurial Leader Conundrum

In the attached article, Rizwan Virk writes about a classic conundrum all entrepreneurs must deal with as their company grows; how to convert from a “doer” to a “leader.” Virk talks about how entrepreneurs can quickly fall into bad management behavior by getting trapped in one of two scenarios:

  1. Micromanagement
  2. Absentee Management

Obviously these are opposite ends of a wide spectrum, and I’ve actually seen both of these at play. I’ve seen micromanager owners get bogged-down in decisions that include which pencils and tissues should be bought, and from which supplier. Perhaps when your business is in its infancy, this may be a topic of discussion, but not when the business is crossing $100M in annual sales! Micromanagement comes from a belief that the entrepreneur can do it better and/or faster and taking the time to train/empower is simply time that cannot be spared. It also highlights an inability to relinquish control, which can disempower others, slow down decisions and send the business in tangents.

Absentee management is the second entrepreneurial leadership struggle, and is completely the opposite issue. An absentee manager believes s/he can bring in someone (or multiple staff members) to “handle” the day-to-day, but they don’t bring in a qualified, proven leader. Instead, they’ll bring in someone to “assist”, but not train or develop, not enroll in the vision, and leave staff to debate the way forward. In this way, the entrepreneur is free to focus on a passion of his/hers, believes s/he has staff to help, and does not spend time on leadership, coaching, empowerment and team/culture management, as it is not something s/he believes is important. Again, I’ve seen this live, and just as above, it has negative consequences.

A Better Way: Yin-Yang

One of the first rules of being a successful leader is becoming self-aware. Knowing your strengths and leveraging them, while understanding your weaknesses and actively working to develop them through personal efforts and team delegation is where a leader shines. There is no one who has the same vision of the entrepreneur, but that doesn’t mean s/he is the best person to operationalize the business and integrate the strategic vision and business plan.

A better way is for the entrepreneur to find his/her complement. An entrepreneur needs an operator; an integrator; a field general who not only understands and shares in the vision of the enterprise, but creates an actionable strategy to grow the enterprise. This operator has:

  • The strategic capacity & forethought to create and implement a business plan while maintaining the agility to adjust to external factors or opportunities as they arise.
  • The leadership & mentorship ability to recruit talent, empower teams, inspire culture, train/develop for succession planning, and hold people accountable.
  • The synthesis capability to translate the vision of the entrepreneur into tangible results. This includes meaningful metrics, assessing return on investment (ROI) and clearly understanding and leveraging what makes the business meaningfully unique.

Bottom Line: starting a business is a herculean accomplishment and puts an entrepreneur in “rare air.” But as the business grows, being able to continue as the entrepreneur while becoming an effective manager is also a daunting challenge. Be self aware, understand what you do well and where you need to develop, and find an operator/integrator who can be your partner to help the business achieve your long-standing vision.