Monday, January 17, 2011

The Entrepreneurial Dilemma of a Bird in the Hand or Two in the Bush

Entrepreneurs face a dilemma every time they make a decision. They are constantly weighing the present and the future, trying to benefit both but often sacrificing one for the other. But that’s what makes entrepreneurship so risky, right? The unknown outcomes?

In The Dilemma of Entrepreneurial Decision-Making on American Express OPEN Forum®, I make this one major point: we need to ask ourselves how each decision we make in our business will potentially impact our future. The more realistic and grounded we are about the future, the better decisions we will make today, and the better the chances that our decisions will benefit today and tomorrow.

Which brings me to the question I want to discuss in this post: Why does the saying “a bird in the hand is better than two in the bush” have to be so linear and definitive? Can’t we have both? Don’t we need to figure out how to have both if we want our businesses to survive?

I realize that one of the meanings of this saying is to help us be grateful for what we have, but entrepreneurs who spend too much time enjoying the fruits of their labors need to be careful. We are under constant attack by hungry, aggressive competitors who are frustrated they didn’t get the bird we got but are anxiously plotting to get the two in the bush.

Entrepreneurs need to take great care of the customers they have. We need to get clarity about why those customers are so happy to pay us and why our business model is being successful and ground our plans and projections for the future on that clarity. Then we will be able to make the types of decisions that will improve both–the bird in the hand and the two in the bush.

How do we do that? First, we need to consider our realistic vision of the future in every decision, like whether we should buy or build our next piece of technology or if we should over-promise a new customer. Then we need to continue to challenge our vision of the future with trends, market changes, new technology, and so many other factors to help us keep the birds in our hands while positioning our businesses for the opportunities of the future.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Which Came First, Leadership or Entrepreneurship

I participated in a leadership course for youth this last weekend and walked away thinking about how every entrepreneur I know is a leader, and I usually find a correlation between each entrepreneur’s leadership skills and their relative success. So, which comes first? Do you have to be a leader before you can be an entrepreneur? Or can you become an entrepreneur and learn the leadership skills you need to succeed?

I’m certainly not the authority on either topic, but I have consumed a lot and even created a little content on both. I cannot recall any author or speaker ever taking them on in this context. So I’m just going to jump right in with my thoughts, and I would welcome others to do the same.

I believe some have a more natural tendency toward being leaders and entrepreneurs. But these same folks often rely on their natural abilities and neglect developing some of the core skills and attributes to augment their effectiveness. It’s like a high school running back who uses his god-given speed and reflexes to thrive, only to realize the guys he’s competing with for a starting spot in college all have as much or more natural ability than he has.

Which leads to the next point–besides innate leadership and entrepreneurship tendencies, many of the skills that make successful leaders and entrepreneurs can be learned, developed, practiced, and honed. The leadership course in which I participated focused on four such skills: vision, communication, organization, and synergism.

A few years ago I worked with a man who was thrust into a leadership position. He had lived a life behind the scenes, and that’s where he preferred to be. And, as far as textbook definitions go, he was not much of a leader. He struggled mightily with public speaking, lacked natural charisma, and shied away from trying to assert his thoughts on others. By every assessment tool he should have failed in his leadership role. But he thrived. Why? Because he worked hard to learn and develop that which he could. And those he lead could see his efforts and were happy to tolerate any deficiencies or flaws. In fact, his weaknesses became endearing to those he lead. I bet you won’t find that in a textbook anywhere!

I heard Dan Sullivan speak recently, and he said something that I will never forget–leadership cannot be commoditized. I think the same for entrepreneurship. You just can’t bottle it up and sell it off the shelf? Why? Because each leader and entrepreneur is unique, and their unique skills, attributes, and approaches to the task-at-hand result in varying ways to get the job done. And a big part of that is because it has to come from the heart, meaning there are as many different styles of leadership and entrepreneurship as their are leaders and entrepreneurs.

This is just a start to my thoughts on this subject. In the same manner that we have no conclusive answer to the the question “Which came first–the chicken or the egg?’, entrepreneurship and leadership are so connected and intertwined I don’t think we can ever really know which came first. Are there any entrepreneurs out there that think they were one or the other first? I bet the answer is unique to each one of us, further validating the point that these disciplines come from the heart and the unique spirit of each of us.