In building successful businesses, I believe that creating an innovative new product or service is often the easy part. The hard part is providing the necessary leadership to align and motivate everyone from engineers to investors to suppliers and ultimately customers. Great entrepreneurs are not just people with ideas and then managers, they are extraordinary leaders.
Most investors admit that they invest primarily in people, not ideas, and inherently believe they can feel this leadership ability necessary to deliver the rapid growth and 10x return we all seek. However, beyond a list of noble attributes, such as vision, courage and integrity, it is difficult for them to define what separates an ordinary entrepreneur or manager from an extraordinary leader.
I saw a new approach in the classic book “Leadership Transformed: How Ordinary Managers Become Extraordinary Leaders” by Dr. Peter Fuda, which identifies seven leadership themes, presented as metaphors. I think these will really help anyone recognize great leaders and more importantly accelerate their own business leadership transformation:
- Demonstrates fiery ambition and a fiery platform (metaphor for fire). These are the forces that initiate and sustain transformation efforts. The first two on the personal side are ‘urgency’ and ‘desire’, but these must be combined on the business side with a willingness to burn down the platform (change any aspect of the business) without a crisis.
- Sense of responsibility and drive (snowball metaphor). This means there are no excuses or rationalizations, and it holds team members accountable to each other. The leader then builds momentum from small successes into a snowball that will grow into a large, powerful, and eventually unstoppable business. Has he addressed all sources of drag or friction in his snowball?
- He artfully applies tools and strategies for change (master chef metaphor). New entrepreneurs are really amateur chefs learning how to cook for a new business. Existing business frameworks are the recipes, and great entrepreneurs creatively use new tools and strategies to perfect these frameworks, like a master chef.
- He works with other team members on mutual aspirations (coach metaphor). It’s not about leaders becoming coaches; it’s about leaders who let themselves be guided by others: consultants, team members and even customers. The captain of a team depends on the support of his teammates, which requires trust and respect on both sides, and humility on the part of the leader.
- He does not mask the authentic self, values and aspirations (metaphor of the mask). Too many entrepreneurs put on a mask to hide personal imperfections or adopt an identity that is not aligned with their authentic selves, values and aspirations. This facade is a burden that is soon recognized, so removing the mask is more effective, as well as more comfortable and more fun.
- Improve your self-awareness and edit your own performance (movie metaphor). Great entrepreneurs recognize that leadership is like a movie, and it can be honed and improved through disciplined reflection (seeing yourself as others see you), edited for impact, and directed by experts on your team. Reflect on how often you operate from judgment rather than perception. Think about who could help you reflect on the action.
- Integrate your personal trip within the business trip (metaphor of the Russian dolls). Business is really a set of journeys that interact with the personal journey of an entrepreneur. Upline, this may be his interaction with his Board, investors, and family. Downline is the leadership model you use with your internal teams and external partners. Focus on improving your ascending and descending wrists with your personal journey.
Additionally, here are five strategies that Dr. Fuda and I agreed on that will lead to a more empowering approach to business leadership and help you optimize all of the topics outlined above:
- Shift your focus from your business content to the market context.
- Spend more time showing others what is required, rather than telling them.
- Focus more on collaborating with others, instead of competing.
- Evolve from guru to guide and train others to find answers for themselves.
- Go from critic to entertainer, from what is going wrong to what is going well.
If you are an investor, you need to recognize and mentor entrepreneurs for extraordinary leadership. If you are a startup founder or executive, you must continually strive to change yourself