On Entrepreneurs and Those Who Work for Them

Successful entrepreneurs are that rare mishmash of vision, maniacal drive, determination, resilience and whatever else makes them ‘special’. Often idiosyncratic but with instincts that rarely fail them, these explorers go places where few others have the courage to even imagine. And they lead from out front, not as benign travel guides, but as fearless field generals. It is their war, its personal and risks be dammed….. and it is their glory. Because of this, entrepreneurs tend to surround themselves with soldiers who take direction and execute tasks, individuals who do not need the spotlight, and even better, voluntarily redirect any light that wanders in their direction back to the leader who feeds off of it. This is not to suggest that entrepreneurs have no interest in driven, bright, charismatic, high performers. Entrepreneurs eventually turns their attention to the challenges of scaling their enterprises and are often fascinated by professional managers and the specialized knowledge or skills they possess, the companies they have worked for, and the successes they have had. The entrepreneur wants what they have and what they know. In some instances, the entrepreneur craves the business maturity and progress which the addition of these executives promises…and thus pursues them. And successful entrepreneurs tend to get what they want.

But when entrepreneurs hire professional managers, two outcomes are most likely. In some instances the sponge-like entrepreneur quickly absorbs the specialized knowledge of the newly hired executive and as this happens the infatuation fades. The value of the now all-too-human executive is questioned, as is the premium compensation paid to attract him. It is only a matter of time before the entrepreneur begins to question the real value of the high-priced ‘suit’. The executive never sees his ‘resignation’ coming.

In the second scenario, the entrepreneur discovers that the newly hired executives bring unwelcomed baggage. Perhaps they are independently minded; perhaps they are insufficiently deferential, occasionally questioning the entrepreneur; perhaps they view the entrepreneur’s ‘hands-on’ style as counter-productive micro-management; perhaps they push for changes that cut a little too close to the entrepreneur; or heaven forbid, perhaps they have an ego which accepts credit or recognition. While it is likely that the career successes of many of these star performers were built on the back of these very attributes, they do not bode well when working for many entrepreneurs. The legacy entrepreneurial team members are also threatened by the interloper who asks questions, and pushes for rigour and process, so they start to whisper to the entrepreneur that the new hire is not working out. It is only a matter of time before the entrepreneur finds a way to dispose of the disruptive force.

For better or worse, many entrepreneurial leaders end up surrounded by a coterie of yes-men who execute, serve, tolerate and above all stay loyal to their entrepreneurial benefactor. But living in the shadows, tethered to a bright entrepreneurial life force is not the ideal incubator for the next generation of leaders. Dependence does not breed independence, lifelong followership does not foster leadership, comfort does not beget an entrepreneurial itch. And when these executives cash out or are pushed out of the nest and try themselves to be entrepreneurial leaders they tend to be poseurs, handicapped by that very part of them which served them so well under their previous master. Few thrive…

About the Author

Robert Hebert is the founder and Managing Partner of StoneWood Group Inc., a leading executive search firm in Canada. Since 1981, he has helped firms across a wide range of sectors address their senior recruiting, assessment and leadership development requirements.

Contact Robert by email at [email protected] or call (1) 416-365-9494 EXT 777

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