Is entrepreneurship the only way to be a true leader?

Setting up a business from scratch is no small feat. In fact, it takes nerve to bring a vision to life, let alone drive its sustainable success.

 However, more than often, entrepreneurship is seen as a symbol of leadership, where the latter is considered a given within the former. This is because the aspect of autonomy, and the notion of “being one’s own boss”, which is often highlighted in entrepreneurship discourse, takes leadership skills for granted.

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As courageous as being an entrepreneur is, it demands certain leadership skills. A recent study by Warwick Business School has shown that having poor leadership skills is one of the key reasons many SMEs in the UK fail to achieve their full potential, in terms of growth and productivity.

It is critical to understand that autonomy and leadership are two very different things. While the desire for autonomy is one of the main reasons behind entrepreneurial ventures in the UK, it does not have any implications for an entrepreneur’s leadership capabilities.

Therefore, an entrepreneur is not always an apt leader, and entrepreneurship is certainly not the only way to truly lead.

Since a leader needs to have psychological ownership of the business, not necessarily a financial stake in it, a strong leader can be identified at any level of an organisation, given that they have the ability to read the people they work with, set a positive example for junior staff and see the way forward in a strategic way. In fact, it is fair to say that if the prerequisite for entrepreneurship is confidence, then the prerequisite for leadership is strategic thinking. A leader often spots what others tend to miss – whether that involves assessing the progress of their business or their staff.

I am as passionate about entrepreneurship as I am about leadership, and the two, ideally, should go hand in hand. I consider myself an entrepreneur and I am very much in support of national efforts underway to promote an entrepreneurial culture. One of the most positive moves I have seen in this space is the recent government review into the possibility of encouraging start-ups in areas of high unemployment. The multi-faceted role of the visionary who strives to build effectively managed teams and ensure seamless operations is not an easy one to execute, and could use much of this backing.

That said, while we encourage start-ups and entrepreneurs, we must emphasise (and re-emphasise) the importance of entrepreneurial leadership skills, which can only be acquired through proper learning and development plans.

To many, the entrepreneur is the ultimate form of a leader. However, the ultimate leader does not exist, but in relative perception. The question is, can you deliver what your business needs from its leadership, and more importantly, can you get others to believe in your vision and deliver on your business requirements? If so, you have got yourself a leader right there.

About the author

Diane Coolican is the Managing Director of Redsky Learning, a specialist learning and development consultancy based in Leeds.

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