Who Came Up with the Word Entrepreneur Anyway?

Who came up with the word entrepreneur and why does it have to rhyme with something that squirts out of a cow’s ass? Maybe because frequently that’s exactly what an entrepreneur is full of. Yes, we acknowledge that as a small business owner our proverbial house is made up of the finest glass in the world, but for the moment, forgive the holier than though ‘tude.

Why the self-flagellating attack on those bold enough to go out on their own, slave around the clock, create jobs for others and hope to see a financial return years later? Because most entrepreneurs think the only one in the office who can do it, whatever it is, is themselves. The quintessential entrepreneur is inherently wired to believe they are a superhero. That delegation is for wimps and collaboration is for artists.

Team is probably one of the most overused words in business today. At least it’s right up there with leverage and strategy. The simple fact is far too few entrepreneurs embrace the strategy of leveraging the full talents of their team. Plenty claim they do, but without practicing the following five principles, saying you are all about “team” is like saying Kobe Bryant thrived on passing the ball. From Drucker to Collins to Walton to Godin, many of the greatest business minds have explored these themes but none of them writes for this blog, so here goes:

  1. Manage by empowering decisions not penalizing failure. Responsibility without authority is a demoralizing vacuum. How can you claim you have a team if you never give up the ball? And even if you do, does your team know it’s OK to fail? The only thing worse than missing the shot with the game on the line is not getting it off at all because you’re afraid of what will happen if you miss.
  2. Promote accountability and knock over those fence-sitters. Most people learn early on in school to duck for cover when the teacher calls their name.  If everyone on your team isn’t empowered to hold each other accountable for taking their fair share of the responsibility, and therefore risk, all you have done is create a culture where everyone watches from the sidelines hoping someone else will shoot with the game on the line.
  3. Compensating for shared results, not just individual contribution. How can you claim you have a team if there’s absolutely no democracy or operational congruence in how they’re rewarded or evaluated?  What do we mean? We know an entrepreneur who insists everyone spend two hours a day in integrated team meetings but then questions why each of them isn’t billing for a full day’s work. We also know a CEO who hands out different bonuses to peers on the same team, based on which ones “generate the revenue.” Best of all, he’s deluded enough to think everyone won’t find out. So much for “all for one, one for all.”
  4. Leaders are there to serve the “servants.”  This will come as news to most entrepreneurs, but your team isn’t here to tend to your every whim and desire; it’s the other way around. If you really are, as you believe, the most talented, experienced and downright clever and charming person in your company, shouldn’t your primary role be to support all those mere mortals that surround you? It’s really easy once you climb off your self-constructed throne.
  5. Diversity isn’t just about being PC. There are two fatal mistakes in how entrepreneurs hire and manage their team members. They choose people who are exactly like themselves – after all, who is a bigger fan of you, than you yourself? Or, they have the wisdom to hire people with different skill sets, backgrounds and strengths, but then expect them to conform to a system tailored to, you guessed it, the entrepreneur’s preferences.

Most successful entrepreneurs, the ones who build companies that last, eventually learn these lessons. Why then do the best and brightest have to take so long to figure it all out?  Because the very same gene that inhibits teamwork enables exploration.  It takes a certain breed to set sail toward the horizon not knowing if the world is flat or not.  And generally, that’s not the kind of captain who likes to consult with his crew before turning left or right.  The best ones discover they can’t make the return voyage without some friends by their side.

Diane Eichler

Diane is the President and Founder of Decibel Blue. Diane brings more than 25 years of entrepreneurial and corporate experience on both the client and agency sides. Most recently, she launched The PR Loop, a membership-based, online hub for industry professionals around the world.

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