Webinar Wrap-Up: What Sets Entrepreneurs Apart

Entrepreneurs have garnered a lot of attention in recent years. The tech boom has given rise to the entrepreneur-as-celebrity, where persona has come to be nearly as important as the business fundamentals.

Entrepreneurial flair may be trendy, but setting aside the stereoptypes, what are the behaviors that entrepreneurs apply that are different from other presidents and CEOs? If we’re looking to cultivate a more entrepreneurial type of leader – even in a traditional organization – what are we looking to develop?

These questions inspired us to conduct a new study on entrepreneurs, and we discussed the findings in yesterday’s webinar: Leading the Charge: What sets entrepreneurial leaders apart and how we can help them succeed.

Read on for key findings from the presentation, as well as answers to questions from the session.

What does the entrepreneur profile look like?

Our study of nearly 500 entrepreneurs revealed a profile that – like any – has a handful of potential strengths and liabilities:

Entrepreneurial strengths:

  • They sell ideas and build energy around them.
  • They give others room to grow and try new ideas.
  • They’re not bound by rules or opinions of authority figures.

Potential liabilities:

  • They may not be open to challenges from others.
  • They may let ideas take flight without providing much support or structure.
  • They find it easy to break with standard procedure.
  • They may appear selfish or lack interest in helping others.

How do entrepreneurs compare to other leaders?

Next, we looked at what distinguished entrepreneurs from their non-entrepreneur counterparts – Presidents and CEOs. A few characteristics stood out.

When compared to other leaders, entrepreneurs…

  • Are less likely to rely on input from others
  • Spend less time giving feedback to those they work with
  • Are more likely to leverage expertise in their area of specialty

Applying the Research to Develop Entrepreneurial Leaders

Whether you are coaching entrepreneurs directly, or working with an organization that would like its leaders to take a more entrepreneurial approach, you can use these findings in your coaching.

5 ways to leaders can act more entrepreneurial…

  1. Sell ideas. Persuasion skills are important; leaders should develop those skills, and not just assume that others will agree with them by default.
  2. Build commitment. Excitement can be contagious. Leaders should work on building enthusiasm to help them get buy-in and commitment to their ideas.
  3. Learn to delegate. Delegating tasks will allow others room to learn and grow – and it’s another way to build support.
  4. Don’t overemphasize rules and guidelines. Stay flexible; don’t focus on establishing rigid systems and guidelines.
  5. Be comfortable challenging authority. If something is important, push back. Get comfortable going against the grain.

….and 3 ways they can avoid the pitfalls.

  1. Curb the chaos. Being comfortable with change is good. But non-stop disruption could leave others confused and unable to perform effectively.
  2. Invite others’ ideas. Of course expertise is important – but don’t lose sight of others’ perspectives. Take in new ideas, then use your expertise to evaluate them.
  3. Maintain social capital. In the midst of focusing on your goals, don’t neglect taking the time to support others.

For much more, including findings about entrepreneurs’ blind spots, and demographic variations in the entrepreneur profile, you can watch the webinar on demand here.

This study was our very first on entrepreneurs, and it provoked a number of fascinating questions. We have expert answers to these questions below. If you have queries of your own, please reach out to us at research@mrg.com. We’re always happy to help!


What types of organizations did the entrepreneurs in the study lead?

The entrepreneurs in our sample came from different industries (20+ represented). The industries represented in the sample include: Social Services 10%, Research/Scientific Services 5%, Health Care/Medical Services 4% and Accounting/Banking/Financial Services 4%. Most (about 65%) were small, with fewer than 100 employees and 75% were startups.

You can find more details about the study’s demographics in the Research Summary.

Do female entrepreneurs have the same fairly low Delegation score that we see in other female leaders?

We found no significant gender differences in delegation between female and male entrepreneurs. In fact, the median delegation score for both groups was 70. This is different from a lot of our other gender research, where women are usually found to emphasize delegation at much lower levels than male leaders. There must be something about the role of entrepreneur that benefits from being able to rely on others to do some of the work, whether the entrepreneur is male or female.

I’m interested in how entrepreneurs place higher emphasis on delegation while also showing lower emphasis on relying on input from others.

First, Entrepreneurs describe themselves as delegating somewhat more than their observers describe. That said, when any leader delegates without seeking the input from others, they are delegating primarily from their own vantage point: “I need this done, and this is the best person to do it.” So they don’t engage others in determining what should be done, or how it should be done, or if the person feels capable of doing what is delegated (at least the Entrepreneur does not do this frequently). Instead they assign the work without much specific instruction and assume it will get accomplished.

Is there a correlation between your findings and Founder’s Syndrome?

There are definitely the seeds of some elements of Founder’s Syndrom, such as low Structuring, high Excitement, low Cooperation and low Deference to Authority. But the description of how entrepreneurs lead has some elements that protect against Founder’s Syndrome: mid-range on Strategic, Communication, Management Focus and Empathy. Because we are looking at a group rather than an individual, you can imagine that some of these people will, or are, demonstrating aspects of Founder’s Syndrome while some are operating in ways that are fairly distinct from the syndrome.

Did you consider the size of the business run by the non-entrepreneur CEOs? I find that some people who lead small businesses that are replications – not innovative – are not really entrepreneurs.

That’s an interesting point. We did not consider organization size when finding a comparison group for entrepreneurs. One reason for this is that we wanted to focus on a broad functional definition as a starting point. It would be interesting to consider the effect of organization size on the results of the research. This is only our first study into this area of leadership and we really appreciate your input as we continue to expand this line of research. It has generated a lot of interest so we will absolutely continue to expand on it.

An observation: if the Self score is about how one sees oneself as decision maker, then the relatively higher Self score for entrepreneurs makes sense. And I’ve found a correlation between Consensus and Self. So, since the Consensus score is higher, it may impact the Self scale behaviors.

Self measures the degree to which the leader sees him/herself as autonomous in thinking, decision making and action (for those of you who know MRG’s motivation assessment, the IDI, Self is positively correlated with Independence). Entrepreneurs are midrange in both Self and Consensual (but higher on Self and lower on Consensual than other CEOs/Presidents). One of the things that is very striking about the entrepreneur profile is how high they are on Persuasive and Excitement. One possible explanation for the dynamic between Self and Consensual is that the entrepreneur is so emotionally invested in their idea/vision that they are potentially reluctant to seek too much input lest they hear information that deflates their optimism.


About the author

Lucy is the Head of Marketing at MRG. She's a passionate people person who talks with her hands even when she's on the phone. She will not rest until everyone on earth has taken their IDI.

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