My former business partner, Sheldon Adelson, is the epitome of the American success story. The son of a Boston cab driver, he early on decided that his best option was to skip college and instead hone his skills by starting a business. Along the way, he never stopped learning and dreaming -- and pushing against conventional wisdom. Perhaps that's why Adelson succeeded as one of the most successful entrepreneurs of our time.
Another push Adelson made against conventional wisdom is implicit in his view that while the CEO of this or that company is no doubt very successful, he or she is not an entrepreneur. I didn’t agree with this early on, but as I spend more time with senior executives of companies, I get Adelson's point: There are many great qualities of successful entrepreneurs, and one of them is that these entrepreneurs aren’t worried about losing their job.
More than anything else, this concern separates entrepreneurs from executives.
I have studied surveys of c-suite leaders from companies of all sizes. Consistently, throughout these surveys, you'll find that one of the top three concerns of top business leaders is the fear of losing their jobs. What is the impact of this concern, and if you are truly committed to being an entrepreneur, what can you learn?
Worry about job loss always, always affects the ability to both be true to your dream and to act with fearlessness. The most successful entrepreneurs are clear about their vision, and persuasive in inspiring others to adopt it. These entrepreneurs exhibit a depth of risk-taking and relentlessness that supports making their dream come to life.
Executives, in contrast, are generally confined in the ways things have always been, and inhibited in their actions and decisions and fears of putting their jobs on the line.
Consider this case study: Over the past 10 years, I worked with the leadership team of a Fortune 100 company. The company was in a death spiral. Its traditional business was deteriorating rapidly and its new products and services were not closing the gap. The CEO was a very capable executive, who had produced success as one of the key leaders of another large company.
Yet he had never been the one to bring forward a dream that would captivate and inspire. He had never been challenged with establishing a culture that was radically different from the one he inherited. And he was enamored with his position and did not want to lose it.
The result was not pretty: The company went through bankruptcy; and its future is still very uncertain. As for the CEO -- he's out.
While this story plays out in companies worldwide, entrepreneurism remains the key to sustainable success. It adapts to whatever circumstances it faces and never loses its clear focus or its aspiration. Its culture is filled with people who are supported as they take risks, and who learn without fear of job loss. Are you part of this culture? Ask yourself the following three questions
- Do you refrain from taking risk because of fear of job loss?
- Do you not speak up because you are concerned about “rocking the boat”?
- Are you inspired by the dream of where you work?
If you answered "yes" to any of these questions, you are not following the road of an entrepreneur. An entrepreneur doesn’t need to be the business creator; he or she is anyone in the organization who exhibits the qualities of an entrepreneur.
Ask anyone who has an entrepreneurial approach to business. This person will tell you that that approach is both liberating and rewarding. Sure, things aren’t always comfortable or positive, but all of us have those experiences in any work we do. So, why not break out of the fears that inhibit you? Why not have as your day-to-day work experience something that's exciting, something you look forward to each day? Then you can truly embrace being an entrepreneur.