Being an entrepreneur, or having entrepreneurial abilities, is an admired trait in our society. If you asked a candidate in an interview if they view themselves as entrepreneurs, the socially acceptable answer is a resounding “absolutely.” If you asked individuals on your current team or in your department if they felt they had an entrepreneurial spirit, the answer would likely be affirmative. However, these types of questions often garner answers associated not with the true self, but with the idealized self. The idealized self is an image of what we should be, must be or ought to be, in order to be acceptable.
Why is this important in a professional setting? Not every role requires an entrepreneur. In many cases, the engine of an organization is fueled by those who perform a role consistently and efficiently, day in and day out. However, in a leadership capacity, having a true entrepreneurial mindset and spirit is essential.
In life, self-actualization occurs when a person’s “ideal self” (who they would like to be) is congruent with their actual behavior. In business, we may not have the time to wait for the two to align. We need to make sure we have entrepreneurs in the right roles, no matter how senior or junior the opportunity, instead of wantrepreneurs.
So what traits should you look for in your current or future team?
Again, “passionate” is one of those qualities that few would admit they do not have. So how does passion manifest itself? Passionate individuals wake up every day craving success. They are obsessed with the idea of achieving their goals and wasting as little time as possible doing it.
The key, of course, is that passion is channeled into action. We have all met individuals who are passionate about so much yet accomplish so little, because they lack the ability to focus their thoughts into action. They live in their dreams instead of in reality, often because the fear of failure holds them back and becomes easier to talk than to do. Entrepreneurs channel that passion into action. Identify individuals who generate results; anything that’s not a result is an excuse.
Isn’t that what business is all about? Figure out a new way to sell a product, or create something that doesn’t exist, or streamline a process, or identify a solution that your competition has not identified. Creativity is sometimes more easily found in our children than it is in ourselves! Why is this? In that question lies the answer; children are always asking “WHY?”
Creative thinkers are intensely curious, so identify those within your organization who crave answers and alternative ways of approaching problems. Identify those who provide new avenues for thinking, instead of simply following directions.
Foster this in people as well; give them permission to find their own new answers. It is acceptable to say “I don’t know;” it is impossible for anyone to know anything about everything, but creative thinkers go about finding the answer. No matter what issue is faced, there is someone else who has had the same issue and has likely already solved the problem. Give permission for creative thinkers to seek out those who have come before them, and pull spokes from the wheels of others instead of reinventing the wheel from scratch.
When researching the traits of true entrepreneurs, before the question of “how did they do it” comes the “why.” Many experts believe that most entrepreneurs who have made significant footprints throughout history have been driven by a need for approval. Many people have a burning desire to prove other people wrong. That’s a great motivator. Instead of creating a lack of confidence, this conviction is the force that causes someone to fight harder.
This concept of “true grit” was discussed at length in a previous SRA Update. In his book, Self-Made in America, John McCormack references a trait studied by Kathy Kolbe: conation. Conation is “the will to succeed, the quest for success, the attitude that ‘to stop me you’ll have to kill me,’ that elusive ‘fire in the belly’ that manifests itself in drive, enthusiasm, excitement, and single-mindedness in pursuit of a goal – any goal. All consistently successful people have it. Many well-educated, intelligent, enduring, and presentable people don’t have it.”
So how can we start to understand an applicant’s or an employee’s grit? Try some or all of these questions to identify the trait:
- What experiences do you feel had the most impact in shaping who you are today?
- What goal have you had in your life that took you the longest to achieve? What did you learn from that experience?
- Give me an example of a time you made a major sacrifice to achieve an important goal.
- What has been the biggest obstacle you’ve overcome in life? What about in your career?
Not every player on the team needs to embody an entrepreneurial spirit – but identifying and mentoring those who do can start to shape the next generation of future leaders within your organization. These are but a few of the traits to look for as you evaluate those capable of taking your department or company from where it is today to the achievement possible in the future.
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