Entrepreneur, Author, Professor, Global CEO

March 31, 2015

Five Steps for Creating a Personal Leadership Strategy

The fledgling entrepreneurs I mentor often have no shortage of strategies: ambitious business plans, technology strategies, market strategies, and sometimes even exit strategies. But when I ask them to describe their personal leadership strategies they often give me blank looks. A personal leadership strategy, or PLS, is a plan of action for acquiring and mastering the skills required to take an idea to a self-sustaining enterprise: self-awareness, the basics of enterprises, relationship building, motivation, and change leadership.

Those skills won’t simply settle on you with the mantle of entrepreneurship. Some you may lack, some may need improvement, and others may be hard to acquire because they require personal change. Entrepreneurs who feel that modifying their behavior constitutes a personal failure typically think that they do not need a PLS – after all, company founders don’t have to take orders from anyone. In my experience, such entrepreneurs don’t grow into leaders who can produce a valuable, self-sustaining enterprise, unless they change. Developing a personal leadership strategy forces them to do just that. And entrepreneurs who are less resistant to change find the process of developing a PLS exhilarating.

I’ve written at length both in Startup Leadershipand elsewhere about developing a PLS, but here’s a snapshot of the five carefully considered steps it requires:

1. Tap into your core motivations. Why have you decided to start an enterprise? How badly do you want to run a successful business? Are you willing to endure great stress, sacrifice family time, and persevere in the face of inevitable setbacks? Honestly confront your deepest motivations—including your strongest desires and your greatest fears – and write them down. You may strongly desire independence, riches, and recognition. You may fear penury, humiliation, failure. All of these motivations are selfish—as they must be in order to induce you to make the great sacrifices you will have to make in order to succeed.

2. Acquire the right mentor. Find an objective, experienced person or group of people whom you respect. They can help test your ideas and your capabilities throughout your journey. Don’t choose a friend; choose someone who can dispassionately and accurately judge your level of competence and self-knowledge as you seek to develop essential entrepreneurial leadership skills.

3. Inventory your traits. You likely have a good idea of your traits, from a variety of sources – self-awareness, personality or vocational testing, career counseling, feedback from family and friends, perhaps therapy. You can start your list by using the Myers-Briggs Personality Type Indicator (MBTI). The MTBI is well established in the business world because it helps you better understand how you process information, how you relate to other people, and how you make decisions.

List your traits and consider how each trait will make it easier or harder to master entrepreneurial leadership skills. Traits or combinations of traits – like introversion, indecisiveness, fear of confrontation – could pose major challenges for leading and growing a business. But all such challenges can be mitigated with an appropriate personal strategy informed by self-awareness. No combination of traits should make a person give up on the desire to become an entrepreneurial leader.

4. Assess your skills. At this point it is best to concentrate on just the five essential skills: 1) self-awareness, 2) relationship building, 3) motivation, 4) leading change, and 5) enterprise basics. List these skills and then honestly characterize in a sentence or two your behavior that relates to that skill.

With input from your mentor, former coworkers, and bosses—people who have seen you do things – you can determine your demonstrated level of skill in each of the five essentials by using this rough scale:

·Basic: You can describe the skill, and you can explain how you would apply the skill in a situation that you have experienced or are familiar with to the satisfaction of the people you know who have this skill. If you have failed to perform a task or are afraid to perform a task in spite of having been trained to do so, your skill level is basic. If you have only basic skills, honestly acknowledge that fact. Otherwise, you will be unable to devise an effective strategy for mitigating your lack of proficiency.

·Competent: You can describe how you actually used a skill successfully in a situation.

·Master: You can describe how you used the skill under different and varied stressful circumstances. Stressful circumstances could involve competitive or time pressure or a long-standing problem like a poorly motivated work force or a dysfunctional team. If you have solved a number of such problems using, for example, the skills of motivation and relationship building, you could fairly be said to be a master of those two basics of entrepreneurial leadership.

·Best-in-Class: If you are able to succeed where others with even master level skills have consistently failed, then you are best-in-class.

If you are dissatisfied by your level of proficiency in one of the essential skills, then you must acknowledge the trait or motivation that is holding you back. You should then work with your mentor and others that know you to understand these skill limitations.

Entrepreneurs often believe that their intelligence or common sense can substitute for any of these skills. Most entrepreneurs, no matter how smart they are, don’t realize they need these skills until they have failed. But prior awareness of how necessary the skills are and the use of mentors, advisors, and others can allow you to develop them without enduring failure.

5. Draft a personal leadership strategy

Based on your assessment of your motivations, traits, and skills, and with your mentor providing advice and support, write a summary of where you feel you currently stand as you are about to begin your journey. Then describe the actions you intend to take—the forward-looking part of your PLS.

There is no right or wrong way to map out your plan of action. Some people make bullet points; others write an essay. The important thing is to write it down in some form, to create a document that you can use to hold yourself accountable for your own development. In a subsequent blog, I will offer some guidance for writing the kind of PLS document that is right for you – that affirms your motivations and skills, sets out a list of actions you will take to acquire, develop, and master the skills it takes to be a successful entrepreneurial leader, and puts you on the road from a great idea to a great enterprise.

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