Entrepreneurship is a Leadership Challenge

If you’ve made the decision to become an entrepreneur then you believe that you’re ready to become a leader. You’re ready to forge your own path, not to follow someone else’s. You’re ready to decide what opportunity to pursue, and how to pursue it. You’ve already started this process of becoming a leader: you decided to leave your job and follow your own compass.

But, self-leadership in this form is a whole new skill. You start full of hope and enthusiasm, but this is bred out of naivety. When it comes to self-leadership, you’re unconsciously incompetent. 

Pretty soon you encounter reality. The first few ideas you had end up not being as promising as you’d hoped. You realise that testing an idea takes a lot of work, and even then you’re often left with the tricky question of whether to commit further. You begin to question the wisdom of going out on your own. The opportunity costs begin to loom large. You recognise that this is going to be a lot more difficult than you first thought. You’ve become conscious of your incompetence.

This is where most aspiring entrepreneurs falter. The problem isn’t that they haven’t developed the hard skills to be an entrepreneur: most manage to grasp the principles of customer development, they learn how to build and test a basic MVP.

Most aspiring entrepreneurs fail to grasp that their challenge is a personal growth challenge, not a professional one.

Becoming an entrepreneur is not about finding an opportunity, it’s about finding the opportunity that’s right for you. Finding the opportunity that’s right for you requires self-leadership competency: you need to be able to trust yourself to make those big leadership decisions. To trust your intuition in deciding to pursue an opportunity, or to kill one.

You can only gain this trust by developing and honing your self-leadership skills.

Your options

You have ample opportunities to “follow”, as an employee or even as a co-founder of someone else’s business: you can learn a lot and develop in those opportunities. But, you want more. That’s why you’re here, doing the work you’re doing. You want to forge your own path, to lead. Perhaps you might go back to a job for a while, but as long as you believe in your ability to lead, you’ll be back here. You just can’t get that authentic leadership opportunity anywhere else. So, save yourself the needless pain, struggle and wasted time: start to consciously build your leadership capacity now.

Leadership is very different to following. Even if you’re employee #1, or leading a team, it’s not the same as being the one leading the charge. The stakes are different. It’s on you to find the way forward. There’s a whole new set of skills and challenges.

Of course, there is a practical side to this, finding and testing opportunities. Is this a good business opportunity? Is it exciting for me?

But there is also a personal side, learning what type of opportunity is right for you. This is where we face the leadership challenge I’ve outlined above.

Starting out, you may have thought that you’d leap at any attractive business opportunity – after all, you want to build a business, that’s what you’re backing yourself to do.

However, you quickly realise that all businesses entail risk and require commitment. Sure, you can test an idea, but at some stage you have to commit. It’s a marriage, not a fling: suddenly you’re less enthusiastic to jump into bed with just any opportunity.

Some people fail to grasp that there is no risk free ride. They hold out looking for that idea they’re going to believe in 100%. It doesn’t exist. There’s risk in every opportunity. The first step towards self-leadership competence is to determine the risks you’re willing to take – and the rewards that you require.

When it comes to risk, remember that you’re here because you’re prepared to bet on yourself. You want to bet on yourself. You believe in yourself, so you want to bet on a business where success is heavily dependent on you, on your performance. That’s an opportunity you can believe in.

But that’s not enough: there is still risk in that, risks beyond your control. If you’re going to make a bet, you want to bet on something that you’re excited about. What do you want? What excites you? Maybe it’s making money. Maybe it’s a creative challenge. Maybe making an impact you believe in. If you might fail, then you may at least fail chasing something you actually want. That’s the same principle that brought you into entrepreneurship: don’t abandon it now. Get in touch with your natural sense of curiosity and excitement and learn to follow that. 

Don’t become desperate – it won’t work. Do you really want to build that soap delivery services company your local VC is pushing on you? Can you commit to that? Be honest about who you are: you’re never going to settle for an opportunity that isn’t authentically exciting to you. So, stop even considering them. It’s never going to be a no-brainer business opportunity: there will always be risk and commitment.

If you learn to become a leader – to know what you want, to trust your intuition, to confidently follow your sense of curiosity and excitement, to delve into the ideas where you are the risk – then the right opportunities become obvious. Questions around commitment become intuitive.

Now you can finally apply your hard entrepreneurial skills and talents.

To reiterate: it may feel like if you could only find an idea to commit to, then everything would be easy. But, that’s backwards: once everything feels easy – once you have become a confident leader – then you will know what opportunity you want to commit to.

Focus on becoming a leader, and the idea will become obvious. On the flip side, until you become a leader, you will never be able to authentically commit to an idea. You’ll always hesitate and doubt.

Becoming a leader

How can you focus on becoming a leader? You’re already in the process, so it’s simply a matter of becoming more conscious of it and embracing it.

What’s your greatest growth challenge right now? What’s required of you to step up, to take a leadership decision? Do that. Make that tough decision – even if it might be wrong.

One of the hardest parts of forging your own path is that the path ahead is – by definition – unclear. No one has ever tread it before. You can only take the next step. You can’t see further ahead than that. 

Use your innate drive for personal growth as your compass. Search for your biggest growth opportunity, then at each point, trust that the next step will become clear.

You’ve already begun doing this: when you left your job, you didn’t know where you would end up. 

Now, several months later, you desperately want to find an idea because you desperately want certainty. You’ve had enough of this darkness. But it doesn’t work like that. That’s running from uncertainty. Uncertainty is scary. But part of leading, forging your own path, is learning how to find your way through this uncertainty. Uncertainty never ends, you need to learn to embrace it, to thrive in it. That’s a key component of your growth challenges.

My challenges

I don’t know what I’m doing building a coaching program-esque business. I don’t know who my clients will be. I don’t know what the program will be. I don’t know if anyone will ever pay for this.

But, at the start of 2021, I knew that building my coaching skills was my next growth challenge. I had no idea what that would lead to, but that step was clear: for a long time I had sense there was an opportunity in the coaching space. I had read about coaching, worked with coaches, talked to coaches as potential business partners. To go further, I had to experience sitting in the other chair as a coach. I knew that meant committing to coaching training. I knew that meant getting initial clients. I knew that meant asking people if they wanted to become my client. I knew that meant coaching people when I didn’t feel ready. I knew that meant going forward with no idea where I was going. Answering people’s questions about what I was working on when in reality I had no real idea. I was able to confidently do that because I’d learned to trust my intuition.

I know that the creative challenge of producing thought leadership content and building an audience is my next growth challenge. I have long wanted to consistently publish my writing; I have felt that I have something to say. Yet I – still – don’t know what this is. Everyone has to start somewhere. My next step is clear: I know that means writing, attempting to articulate my thoughts. I know that means sharing my thoughts with others – even though I don’t feel ready. Even though I’ve no idea where this will lead. I still know without doubt that it’s the right thing for me to do – the only thing for me to do.

If you want this clarity and certainty, you can have it. But you can’t hedge your bets. You can’t half-lead, nor lead half-heartedly. You must back yourself. You can’t keep questioning the leader’s decisions. You need to trust yourself, to trust your decision making. Yes: maybe I got it wrong. But that’s OK: at least I got it wrong, no one else did. Of course, this is easier said than done. That’s the whole point of this article. We need to work hard to overcome the growth challenges required on the path toward leadership.

Your next growth challenge isn’t building a company. It’s becoming the person that builds your company.

How can you find your next growth challenge? That’s simple. You have always done this. Your whole life. That’s who you are. You have always sought growth, always pushed yourself to grow. It comes naturally to you. If you need a hint: it tends to be the scariest thing you could do. But, beyond that fear, there is a deep desire to do it. 

Perhaps that’s killing the ideas you’re realistically never going to work on. Or making a decision to commit to testing an idea you’re just not certain of – and maybe never will be. Perhaps that means taking a freelancer job 2 days a week to pay the bills and extend your search period – realizing that you’re not quite ready to spend 5 days a week on this, admitting that it’s going to take longer than you thought and committing to a longer time period. Perhaps that means taking the next step in fleshing out that one idea you’ve never been able to shake, getting it live in the market – even though you’ve no idea where it might lead.

Don’t go it alone

Look at all of your past successes – how many of them did you achieve without support? The best entrepreneurs have the best support networks.

If you want help identifying your growth opportunities, or if any of this writing resonates, then my coaching program may be a good fit for you. We’re a small group of high potential entrepreneurs who are committed to developing as leaders. We push each other to embrace our growth challenges and run at them head first. There is no space to hide! If you are really ready to take your entrepreneurial pursuits to the next level, get in touch.