Skills for Entrepreneurial Leaders

Matt Harvey, Stanford University May 15, 2012

Skill building should be a lifelong pursuit, as there is something revitalizing about the process of learning and striving to master an endeavor or practice. Within business organizations, professional development opportunities are clearly valued by rank-and-file employees, who often pursue skill building or training as a stepping-stone toward career advancement.

But what about the leaders of startups, mid-size companies, and enterprise organizations; what types of skills should they focus on building? For some leaders, it may mean learning new ways to understand the business, right down to the proverbial nuts and bolts of the operation. This is of particular value to those who “fancy themselves as grand strategists and visionaries.”

While leaders often act as if they have all the right answers, perhaps a more authentic approach is admitting when you could use the advice of others.

Another valuable skill is the ability to communicate authentically with colleagues and employees. While leaders often act as if they have all the right answers, perhaps a more authentic approach is admitting when you could use the advice of others, and by doing so, encourage employees to openly bring their best ideas and efforts to bear on the products and culture of a business.

Here are three videos exploring ways entrepreneurially-minded leaders can cultivate these types of skills in themselves — and then reap the benefits of doing so.

See Your Business at Each Level

Entrepreneur Sukhinder Singh Cassidy argues that the judgment to know at what level to examine your business at any given moment is a vital leadership quality. Using a short anecdote from her time at Google, Singh Cassidy explains successful founders and executives must understand the tactical drivers of a business to effectively manage from the top of an organization.

Listen Carefully to Tough Advice

“You must decide how you receive advice,” says Mårten Mickos, CEO of Eucalyptus Systems. Mickos believes this simple, but important, concept is critical for leaders and entrepreneurs who are bombarded by input and challenges from all sides.

Using a story from his experience at MySQL AB, Mickos illuminates the need to re-evaluate positions based on new information and adversities.

The Value of Being Vulnerable

“Leaders who are vulnerable are far more trusted by their employees,” says Ori Brafman, bestselling author of Click: The Magic of Instant Connections. Brafman explains that vulnerability, while often seen as a weakness in business, is a valuable skill that can play a critical role in binding deep, immediate relationships in the workplace.

To illustrate this point, Brafman shares the unique story of a hostage negotiator’s willingness to reveal vulnerability to help form an intense, but unorthodox, business relationship.