Photograph by Tom Merton — Caiaimage via Getty Images
By Lynne Coté
May 10, 2016

The Entrepreneur Insiders network is an online community where the most thoughtful and influential people in America’s startup scene contribute answers to timely questions about entrepreneurship and careers. Today’s answer to the question “What leadership style should every entrepreneur try to adopt?” is written by Lynne Coté, CEO of Cabi.

I’ve heard it said that entrepreneurs are those who start businesses and leaders are the ones who run them, but I contend every entrepreneur must be a leader—the roles cannot be mutually exclusive.

In the barest sense, leadership is about influencing people. I don’t know of an entrepreneur who has been able to get a business off the ground without influencing those around them toward a behavior or thought process. To believe that one can simply activate big ideas, or be independently successful apart from others, is to ignore the fundamentals of business. For any business idea to work, you have to influence others. You have to be a leader.

Most of the traditional “leadership styles” listed didactically in textbooks for aspiring corporate leaders are no longer the menu guiding leadership aspiration—especially for entrepreneurs who have bucked the system, including monikers such as “the authoritarian” or “the pragmatist” or “the diplomat.” In the ever-growing world of self-run businesses, through which so many people work from home and connect virtually, effective leadership styles can manifest in radically unique ways and include an array of attributes. But that’s not to say there aren’t some universal truths.


While every entrepreneurial leader has his or her own flavor, these leadership characteristics seem to be the mainstay ingredients of those with the broadest, deepest influence:

Entrepreneurial leaders must learn to place value on everyone they encounter, which will help to guide their interactions, processes, and even contracts. Whether serving a client or casting a vision to a potential team member, when others sense you genuinely care for them and their well-being, they become open to your leadership influence, and in the long term, become fiercely loyal.

Passion for a bigger purpose
Entrepreneurs rarely lack passion, as their belief in their idea often adds a natural fuel to their daily duties. But when your passion is about something bigger than yourself—a vision many other people find fulfilling to contribute to as well—your influence can extend far and wide. People are eager to follow the leader making a positive impact in the world.

Learner’s attitude
Successful entrepreneurs soak in every ounce of learning possible from each success or failure. This means they set aside ego in favor of humility, and defensiveness in favor of progress. People are much more drawn to humble progress-makers than egotistical defenders.

Emotional maturity
Those who learn to step up and out of emotional reactiveness and instead seek a graceful and measured understanding are the people others are willing to follow in the long term. While it can be exciting at first to link arms with the zealous/creative/unpredictable go-getter, what people really value in leaders is the ability to trust their consistency and rationality.

Grit without stubbornness
Starting a business takes immeasurable fortitude, and only those with day-in, day-out grit can get a business into the black. Gritty leaders develop habits of success, which over time free themselves up for more innovation. Gritty leaders set a pace of relentlessness, creating a culture of people willing to keep at it long after most have given up.

The dark side of grit, though, is stubbornly sticking with an idea or project that should be abandoned. Great entrepreneurial leaders have the wisdom to know when to apply grit, and when to walk away.

When getting a business going, sometimes well-intended determination can take the form of rationalized shortcuts or half-truths. Never ever allow character or quality to compromise, even if it means taking more time and money to grow. Nothing erodes followership like lapses in integrity, which always reveal themselves eventually.

While I believe all six of these characteristics are critical to effective entrepreneurial leadership, I have so enjoyed over the course of my career reveling in the different—but equally effective—styles leaders have. It is beautiful to see that leadership style is not a one-size-fits-most or even six-sizes-fit-all guideline, but rather, it’s as unique as each leader. And that’s part of integrity, too—entrepreneurs must each bring their most authentic selves, in balance with a quest for ongoing refinement.

And while entrepreneurs can take on a multitude of styles, not one of them can make it without being a leader.


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