entrepreneurial leadership, richard branson

4 Essential Keys for Entrepreneurial Leadership

The legendary pioneer of innovative research on entrepreneurship, Gregory Dees, once wisely proclaimed that, “Starting a business is not the essence of entrepreneurship.” The essence of entrepreneurship is a passionate engine of radical transformation that drives the entrepreneur to unknown territories and limitless aspirations all requiring authentic leadership for real results. Economist Joseph Schumpeter, précised it when he defined entrepreneurs as “wild spirits… [whose] function is to reform or revolutionize the pattern of production.” To engage full force as an entrepreneurial leader of today, there are four key leadership practices that every entrepreneur must cultivate.

4 Keys to Entrepreneurial Leadership

  1. Compassion at the Core

To propel forward with lasting results, compassion must be at the core of your entrepreneurial efforts. The savviest entrepreneurs avoid leadership practices of bygone eras that were based in cult of charisma ideologies. By placing conscious compassion at the center of your business practices you won’t fall prey to engaging in tyrannical tantrums supposedly excused by a particular brand of genius. Neither will you lose the loyalty and motivation of your team by indulging in the patronizing “leader knows best” attitudes of the Mad Men era. Focus on the fact that as an entrepreneur in the 21st century, your team is necessarily impacted by the desire for workplaces promoting what we call “Ikigai” in Japanese, which translates to the “purpose driven life” in English. In this era, the people behind your entrepreneurial business, from administrative assistants to the management team, expect and require a work environment inclusive of what

Dan Pink sets out as the big three, “Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose” (A.M.P.). The best way to fuel the A.M.P. work environment is with compassion based leadership.

Compassion – the capacity to give understanding and consideration to others –generates the insights and behaviors needed to engage your team’s full capacity at any given time. With a perspective of understanding, thoughtfulness, and consideration, your leadership will necessarily cause your team’s sense of autonomy, mastery, and purpose to flourish. Acting from a compassion core is what allows leaders to consistently recognize and follow through on what is needed for a truly generative energized start up to sustainably grow.


Acting from a compassion core is what allows leaders to consistently recognize and follow through on what is needed for a truly generative energized start up to sustainably grow.


Keep in mind that overseeing folks who do not take lunch breaks, who work through dinner, and boast about sleeping in the office, is not a badge of winning anymore. It’s a sign that your leadership skills are behind the curve and your team is working into a surefire extinction box called burnout. The wise entrepreneur compassionately insists that her or his team take adequate and regular breaks. The compassion based entrepreneur demands that people on the team do not go beyond reasonable human limits and shows genuine care for the physical and emotional balance of all team members. Your team’s wellbeing is essential to third metric success and you generate that success by practicing genuine authentic care for those you work with.

Entrepreneurs investing in compassionate leadership are in top tier company among established businesses and have a trove of research evidence backing this as the best business practice for pure growth. Firms as diverse as Coca-Cola, Hewlett Packard, Balenciaga, IBM, Adidas, Zappos, Microsoft, and PepsiCo among others have boldly incorporated compassion principles into their supply chain practices, as well as human resource policies, and (in some instances) organizational missions. Research from Harvard to Stanford (yes people, as in “East coast, West coast, world wide”) shows that a culture of compassion in business has optimized outcomes including decreased employee sick days, increased workplace morale, and increased productivity. These are exactly the kinds of outcomes entrepreneurs need to expand from start up to scale, making the compassion core business practice an absolute must for entrepreneurs of now.

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  1. Create Leaders Before All Else

Whatever your specific business model is, as an entrepreneur the number one service you actually provide to the world is leadership toward a better tomorrow. As an entrepreneur your business per se is only a part of the legacy you are building. Know that the aspirational impact of your leadership on those around you is the essential ingredient of your business’s growth. And realize that aspirational impact is the true value of the legacy you create. When “your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more, and become more” then you are exactly the kind of leader that President John Quincy Adams presciently insisted the world would need more of.

Understand that the business you are building into the future only becomes sustainable when you are amplifying leadership among your team members. No matter how brilliant, bold, and gifted you are individually; You are never going to scale a company with a team of followers at your side. From day one of operations, prioritize cultivating leaders on your team.

Pinpoint the talents and passions of your early staff and give them a wide field of responsibility that looks exactly like what is required to grow from seeds into an institution with myriad components. As Jack Welch succinctly puts it, “When you become a leader success is all about growing others.”  The manner in which you cultivate leadership among your team speaks to your character and legacy as much as it impacts the ultimate outcomes of the businesses you build.


  1. Calm is Epic – Prioritize it

Here are known facts of entrepreneurship: You are going to run into the face of the scariest most heart stopping challenges you have ever known and at least ten too wild to put into words scenarios on your way to success. You are going to fail countless times. You are going to experience situations so uncomfortable and disheartening that you’ll need to draw on every ounce of inspiration you came to the table with in order to stay in the game. People are going to count on you everyday and so you are going to show up and grow up at a rate and depth as demanding as the league of talent you run with. All of this means that as an entrepreneur dedicated to radical success, you are going to have every reason to experience intense levels of anxiety on a regular basis.

Anxiety provoking situations are the territory of your chosen path. How you react and use the anxiety though, that is a choice. What you do with the anxiety that comes with the path will either make you a stronger wiser person or it will shorten your life and devastate the morale of those who come into contact with you from employees to personal networks.

The demands of innovating from the ground up are exceptional and the anxiety that they inspire is entirely reasonable. But be aware that you don’t have to be a helpless subject of anxious feelings. You always have the option to train your response mechanisms. You always have the option to discipline yourself through habits into a state of calm responsiveness. You can work at anxiety free responses workday by workday, experience by experience, until you become the leader that is decidedly calm even when facing the greatest chaos.

Motivate yourself and your team to engage practices of mindfulness, to acquire autonomic reset breathing techniques, and to stay in step with physical and emotional health practices. The foundation that this kind of true entrepreneurial leadership work creates, sets the way for entrepreneurs and their teams to course through the toughest of times with an collective epicenter of calm that makes for epic positive outcomes.


“People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” – Maya Angelou


As Maya Angelou put it, we know that “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Modeling calm amidst all challenges is going to make the people around you feel better; In terms of value add, it really is that simple and that powerful. You can give yourself the gift of a breathable enjoyable life path when you learn to be calm no matter what. And you can give your entire network the opportunity to witness and feel for themselves the benefits that calm in all circumstances offers up. Be the calm and you’ll find yourself both witness and beneficiary of epic positive indicators as a result.

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  1. Thou Shall Principle Up – Point Blank

If you are not going in with principles at the forefront, it’s a wrap – send it back. No entrepreneur is attaining the zenith and staying there without fundamental principles at work. Only with principles in full operation do you genuinely add value, create value, and build an authentically worthwhile endeavor. Integrity, Honor, Loyalty, Trustworthiness, Accuracy, Transparency, these principles are a must for every entrepreneur.

In terms of brand and publicity feel free to be as gritty edge as they come – this is after all the 21st century. You have the green light to party like a Balmain rock star, make even a Louis C.K. mindset turn out twice on those overzealous F to the sailor dock bomb drops, and your are of course system a-go-go to roll out with a main event presentation of self and brand that’s devilishly happening and salaciously bedazzling, but remember; Style and substance are not the same. Your personal and product brand styles are always your choice, but your substance requires principles in full effect without exception.

You are creating businesses at time when the term “quadruple bottom line” has growing significance for investors and consumers. Now it will always be true, whether we are talking hyper-post-industrial capitalism or conscious capitalism, that profit is primary on the bottom line. But alongside profit we now have measures of environmental impact, of people impact, and of purpose impact – how are you changing the world with your work? When you serious are about generating a healthy quadruple bottom line, transactional success is meaningless without the addition of those relational modes that come from trust and transparency in the marketplace. As an entrepreneur, your viability is directly tethered to operating with principles at every turn. To build and sustain the businesses of your entrepreneurial dreams, principled action is the only compass that can safely guide you through all terrains in all times.

Keep these key points of entrepreneurial leadership in constant practice while you pursue limitless aspirations. Throughout your career when you find yourself uncertain about what the next right thing is on your entrepreneurial mission, keep in mind two estimable pieces of advice. First, as an unknown sage once put it, just “Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can.” When you find yourself asking, “What should I do?” and only you can supply the response, keep clear that the simple answer is always, “just do good.” What doing good and doing the next right thing looks like in terms of specific quality and characteristic, you will know intuitively by listening to your core self.

Second, as you make your way through the entrepreneurial life path, you can continually train in principled compassionate leadership by drawing on the words of Robert Louis Stevenson, and resolve, “that from this day on, I will do all the business I can honestly, have all the fun I can reasonably, do all the good I can willingly, and save my digestion by thinking pleasantly.” With these simple words of doing in complete operation you will find that walking the necessarily uncharted roads of entrepreneurship can be an ongoing encounter with motivated achievement, gratitude, reward, and inspiration.

Photo credit: Land Rover MENA via flickr

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