This article was exclusively written for The Sting by Ms Kassandra Petersen, former Vice-President of the European Confederation of Junior Enterprises (JADE) and an entrepreneurship and leadership enthusiast and writer.
In an article about the challenge of leadership and entrepreneurship in Europe, the author stated that “leadership skills are what every single company is looking for”. It made me reflect on what it really means to be a leader in any corporate or entrepreneurial environment.
Going straight ahead, I disagree with the above mentioned statement. The reality is, only a few people are considered “leaders” within the corporate world, the rest is expected to follow those few, without the slightest interest of their superiors refining their leadership abilities- no questions are to be asked, no independent thinking desired.
A boss or a manager is not necessarily a great leader
In the old-fashioned corporate world, a boss/manager focuses on giving orders to get things time and cost-efficient done, in his/her opinion, by mostly disposable inferiors surrounding him/her; a controlling, intimidating culture referred to as autocratic “leadership”.
Moreover, functional skills alone do not shape a leader, they make for an efficient project manager. As an entrepreneur, you might have a great business idea and the courage, maybe even the financial resources to set up your company, but you need other people to transform it into a successful business. Jane Wesman stresses: “[Entrepreneurial leaders] help employees develop their own talents and skills. Employees make a commitment to you, when you make a commitment to them. An entrepreneurial leader also knows that it’s essential to help employees grow, so that the business can flourish into the future.” In addition, a leader, understands that with its people, a shared accountability is essential for the success of a company or start-up. “While there always may be someone to blame when things go wrong, a leader must spend the time fixing the problem rather than looking for ways to point a finger at the perceived source of the problem”, says Jospeh D. Sansone.
Kristen Berman emphasizes in “How Startups Should Use Behavioral Economics”, that “[i]t is the person who designs the environment in which we live in who has the most influence on our decisions as opposed to the person who is actually making the decision.” A leader sets therefore the framework, by guiding people with directions rather than orders, according to their needs.
Leadership is about managing and empowering people by creating a common vision and mission and making sure everybody from the team is on board at all times, being able to navigate and/ or correct the course if needed towards a common aim which is the success of the undertakings.
This common purpose, the trust established by transparent sharing of information, the role clarity by defining each individual job as an important element of the overall purpose of the company, and group processes and connectivity are vital. Therefore, a leader should have great HR experience, understanding about team dynamics, the influence of culture on decision-making and leadership expectations, and mediation. He/she is the one that keeps the team going, despite any misunderstanding, differences and disagreements; holding the team together when it seems to be falling apart or losing sight of a common goal by promoting a “we can” attitude that inspires to keep going even when all seems lost.
Furthermore, a true leader listens to all the stakeholders of its organisation carefully, knowing all their needs and demands, he/she makes decisions based on it, but also takes an active part in the execution itself by raising resources to support the team, from staff and budget to salary increases if needed as motivation. Ajit Kambil states: “If the team is overworked and tired, you will have to look at ongoing projects and kill energy-draining projects and tasks that are less important to free up resources to succeed at the more important efforts.”
But how will you decide as a young person if you can actually succeed in what you aim for or if you can be considered a leader in what you believe that you are good at? Universities as well as the corporate world usually don’t give you a chance to try yourself out in different roles.
As much as this might sound like a platitude, join a student organisation, a Junior Enterprise (a non-profit civil social organization, formed and managed exclusively by undergraduate and postgraduate students in higher education, caring our real projects for companies) or even try yourself out taking part in an accelerator programme for (aspiring) entrepreneurs. Those will give you the opportunity to find your role and leadership style in different teams. Additionally, it will help you to find out what you are really good at-what your USP as a person and as a team member in an organisational structure is. People, events and environments make leaders. For some it comes naturally, for others it develops over time.
No matter which one of the previous it is, successful leaders, have all the following things in common: they focus on and reinforce what is important and pose curious questions (never stop asking “why?”), they are self-aware, understanding their own strengths, biases, and weaknesses as leaders, and they are authentic and open to feedback.
On the one hand, an (entrepreneurial) leader is persistent, willing to innovate and to take risks, on the other hand is able to learn and flexible to adapt to his/her stakeholders and organisation.
Coming back to the statement mentioned before, it should be corrected in “Entrepreneurial leadership skills are what every single company SHOULD look for”.
 http://www.forbes.com/sites/startupviews/2012/06/08/5-essential-qualities-for-entrepreneurial-leadership/2/#2aba8a5e2f30 ; https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/resilient-leadership/201607/why-every-leader-should-understand-narrative-psychology
About the author
Ms. Kassandra Petersen has been recently JADE’s Vice President and Head of Public Affairs–, a pan-European organization fostering youth, especially student entrepreneurship. Before becoming JADE’s Vice President, she has worked as a consultant and Quality Manager for a Junior Enterprise while graduating from the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg in Germany with a Master’s in International Business Law and Management. She is currently working on her own start-up and has extensive working experience in advisory, legal and public diplomacy. Furthermore, she was a mentee of various firms, had in-depth speech, negotiation and intercultural management training, and was an international observer for the OAS during presidential elections in Mexico while studying at the National University of Mexico and worked for the Permanent Mission of Germany to the United Nations in New York.