5 Leadership Myths That Kill Entrepreneurial Ventures
The Law of the Lid
Your leadership is like a lid or a ceiling on your organization. Your church or business will not rise beyond the level your leadership allows. That’s why, when a corporation or team needs to be fixed, they fire the leader.
- John Maxwell, The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership
Starting and maintaining a profitable enterprise as an entrepreneur is very difficult, at best. However, research shows that 90% of businesses that fail do so because of a lack of leadership skills.
Fortunately, leadership is a skill many people can learn. In my opinion, however, learning great leadership means that many of us must unlearn most of what we’ve previously been taught or observed.
Best practice for building and sustaining a profitable business is often a reverse paradigm from the things business schools and prevailing leadership experts teach. Leadership best practice, from my perspective, requires the same skills a conductor uses to build the high-performance cultures we call “ensembles” in the musical world. “Ensembles,” in the non-music context, are high-synergy teams. These teams develop only with the intentionality of the leader.
The entrepreneur who operates as a “solopreneur” might not perceive that synergistic teams are important. Wrong! If you are talking to at least one other person, such as a salesperson, consultant, alliance or venture partner, advisor, or board member, then you have a team. It is important for entrepreneurs to surround themselves with capable people. It is also important to learn from other businesses you admire. Being an entrepreneur is a choice to stay out of corporate systems, so why do things in the same way as a company you don’t want to work for?
Team effectiveness starts with the leader and branches from there. First, you equip yourself, then you empower others. With this in mind, here are the 5 top leadership myths that kill entrepreneurial ventures:
- I Must Be in Command: Having been an entrepreneur all my life, I am sure I have made all mistakes possible. I call these mistakes, “learning opportunities.” In one business, my staff presented me with a BOSS card. It was great until I turned it over to read the meaning on the other side. Translated, BOSS backward is Double S.O.B.! I did what I had been taught and what I observed in other leaders--be the BOSS and have all the answers. A BOSS is an autocratic leader. It’s about them. It’s a one-way process. Today I know the leader doesn’t necessarily have all the answers—rather, an effective leader has good questions. Tip: Be the Transformational Leader who defines the vision, empowers others to fulfill that vision, coaches others to a higher level of functioning, and models what it is you want others to do.
- Always be Right: You don’t know everything, so why claim to be right? Leadership is about defining our personal gaps. Inventory your skills and score them from 1 to 10, with 10 being the highest. Every skill below 5 should be delegated to leaders on the team. In view of the fact, there are gaps in skills, there are most likely gaps in perspective, knowledge, and in strategy. Being right means others have to be wrong. Focus on developing leaders on teams and coach them on being right. TIP: Ditch the ego. Healthy self-esteem means that others get to shine at times and, in the end, the leader gets credit for a healthy organization achieving goals. Listening is a primary leadership skill.
- Improper Language or Behavior: Certainly you are an entrepreneur because you want to do things your way. That’s why you don’t want to work for a major corporation. In doing so, however, it is vital that you don’t repeat the bad habits you observed in traditional corporations. As an entrepreneur, you have the chance to develop a better culture and a better business model than the ones you’ve observed. It requires different thinking. Thinking differently and acting differently doesn’t mean you can do or say what you please without a filter. Organizations expect a leader to have high standards. The leader (that’s you) is the person of greatest influence within the business. This means there are consequences to using language and behavior in a manner that is not consistent with the image a leader of this stature represents. A Transformational Leader models what is expected of the rest of the team. Tip: Set good boundaries and have an accountability partner who will speak the truth to you always, in a context of respect and love.
- Pretend to Know What You are Doing Even If You Don’t Know: Ignorance is bliss - or not! The leader who pretends to know everything becomes a target for others to prove otherwise. Following the theme of #2 above, leaders should gain not only skills but should work on gaining knowledge as well. An effective leader is able to coalesce the best thinking of the group and make better decisions based on all available facts. They are able to reframe the negative energy from disagreement into creative tools for innovative thinking. Tip: Develop skills for framing a goal or stating a problem and then allowing the team to create data for decisions. A strong leader always holds the authority and uses power wisely by encouraging creative thinking and cross-disciplinary functioning. It’s not about you - it’s about the vision.
- Delegation is a Weakness of Leadership: Actually, delegation is a sign of strong leadership. Autocratic leaders become a bottleneck for decisions and processes. When the leader must make all decisions, there is a limit to how much the team or organization can do. The Charismatic or Autocratic Leadership model is not scalable. At the opposite end of the spectrum is Transformational Leadership. Companies are successful under each style of leadership, but I favor Transformational Leadership because it is about the vision and is scalable. Traits of this style of leadership include clarity of vision, the ability to build and equip leaders on teams, support and encourage others, providing information and coaching, and modeling what you preach. Tip: Become a more serious student of leadership and never stop learning. Transform yourself first and then transform the organization by transforming the culture. Know that changing others in any group emotional system is accomplished by changing yourself.
Are you ready to go to the next step? As you study these myths, I suggest you share your personal and organizational goals with at least three people you respect and with whom you have a valued connection. Check with them every 30 days to let them know how things are progressing. Being accountable to others is frightening at first until you realize that the people you are accountable to are the people who will bring the highest value to you because they understand where you’re going.
But most important of all, for your venture’s success, when you hit the leadership lid, raise the ceiling!
Well said Hugh! Great leaders build leaders around them. It's no secret that more hands makes the work lighter!
Great article, Hugh!
Nice to have some conceptual confirmation of what it feels I am doing via my gut.