As a serial entrepreneur, I experienced a new challenge in joining an existing company to help it scale. Initially, I felt like the nanny rather than the parent of the child we were raising. This perception helped at first since it’s comforting not being in the hot seat and being on the hook for the most difficult decisions.
Yet that perception quickly dissipated since it provided few challenges and no way to build my skill set. Fewer responsibilities and risks in any role cause vital entrepreneurial skills to wither quickly. So I quickly changed my view and created a mission to drive leadership development at AllCloud, formerly Figur8 Cloud Solutions. I wanted to own this like it was mine, dirty diapers and all.
At its core, the spirit of the entrepreneur is a mindset. It’s an attitude and approach to thinking that actively seeks out change, rather than waiting to adapt to change. In design thinking, this concept is called a “Bias Towards Action,” wherein you take small steps to prototype an idea before launching it at scale. It’s what I did to build my role of cultivating the brightest and sharpest at Figur8. It’s what Richard Branson did with Virgin Airlines.
Richard Branson (Photo by Robert Prezioso/Getty Images)
Virgin Airlines all began with a cancelled flight. There was Richard, CEO of Virgin Records, sitting in an airport lounge, when he was told that his flight from Puerto Rico to Miami was cancelled. Richard being Richard did not accept the status quo and so he chartered a plane to take him home.
Richard then did something extraordinary. He turned around and saw all the other stranded passengers in the terminal who did not possess the ability to simply summon a plane. And so Richard grabbed a pen, jotted down the words “Virgin Airlines” on a piece of paper and started selling tickets at cost to the remaining passengers. His flight sold out and the elated group cheered him on their flight back home.
The next day, Richard bought a used 757 and a billion dollar company was born. He did what nearly all entrepreneurs do: he had a bias towards action. Start. Act. Fail. Learn. Repeat.
To start something, whether at home or in the workplace, figure out the minimum effective level to get something out there into the world and get feedback. While these words sound painfully obvious, it’s one of the biggest hurdles that any entrepreneur-to-be encounters as there is huge societal pressure to ‘show when complete’. This same mentality of a bias towards action can be achieved in the work-place at any level of the organization.
Here are five things I did to launch an entirely new body of thought under the auspice of leadership development:
1. Develop a personal vision and mission statement
If you are to lead, why should we follow? Articulating your thoughts in a clear and concise vision of what the world would look like (the vision) by executing or focusing a plan (the mission) will draw people to your cause, business, or project.
In writing a vision and mission, keep it simple and know the difference between the two. Think of it as a mountain. The vision statement is the peak of the mountain, a goal that may even be unattainable though one worth striving for. The mission is the path, the defined strategy you will take to reach the peak. I did this for myself and now encourage all employees at Figur8 to do the same. Whether the goal is to mentor others, become a rad coder or an amazing consultant, plot out your vision and mission first.
2. Immerse yourself in learning
At Figur8, we had a core value of “Never Stop Learning.” We realize that the only thing everything can be is better. You will not immediately achieve your mission and will need to learn, try, and fail your way to success. In our information-rich world, there’s very little reason to actually spend money on this learning journey.
Listen to podcasts or audiobooks during your morning commute. Ask colleagues and friends for books that made them better at their craft or passion. Keep tinkering and be patient. Realize that it takes 10,000 hours to become an expert in something; this journey will make you more self-assured, motivated and successful in your role as the workplace entrepreneur.
3. Build a brand
You have a mission and you’ve learned how to execute it. Now people need to know about it. Whether it is your own personal brand or your company’s, managing your identity is critical to your professional development.
Leverage social networks to build your personal brand. Write blogs about the topic. Weave the brand into your title. Do you think my title at Figur8 and this blog post about the topic of leadership development is an accident? Most importantly, since you are also a part of your company’s brand, set an example for your co-workers to uphold.
4. Make an impact
Regardless of your company’s size, you can have an impact. Our company’s product is our people and by strengthening their leadership skills, providing them a board of advisors, and ensuring their wellbeing, I know my role improves their ability to provide expert guidance to our clients. Yet I still had to prove this to our own leadership team so I started small and thought big.
I prototyped various leadership development workshops, lessons, and one-on-one sessions with a few people at first. I succeeded, failed, learned, and iterated the process. Then I grew it to team sessions. I used my early career development prototypes as templates that could be shared with all resource managers. This empowered me to then scale the process across the company. I demonstrated the impact in those first few employees and then rolled it out to a greater team. This allowed me to find my niche for my voice to be heard.
5. Be passionate and determined
“Impossible is what an entrepreneur won’t do. Everything is possible and dead-ends do not exist. A dead-end is a place where your thinking and effort is challenged to discover a novel solution.”
When you start something new at the workplace, it will create fear since people don’t like change. Some will reject your efforts out-right since they will stick to their conditioned business-as-usual approach. Do not let that deter you. Grit and determination will eventually prove your case as long as you learn from your failures. Embrace the challenge, enlist others to help, and nothing will stop your dreams from coming true.
Even with these five lessons under your belt, it will not be easy to simply be an entrepreneur. It’s scary to disrupt the status quo by challenging the people and surroundings around us. Take control of your professional development. Otherwise, you may find yourself stuck at the airport waiting lounge for the rest of your life. Form a vision, let others know about it then start small while thinking big. Everyone can charter that sort of plane.