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Experience Hothouse

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By its very nature, entrepreneurial leadership has no true title, no specific age group and actually has very little to do with whether or not you have your own business. Entrepreneurs use their competencies for creation, whether that’s designing a product to solve a problem or social issue or developing a service to support others. In addition, not only do they recognise the problem or issue, they see the opportunity inside it and then go about developing a resolution. Leadership skills for entrepreneurial leaders, therefore, depend on the ability to not be fixed to working within boundaries or being beholden to conventional thinking and traditional business models.

Take for example, David Risher, ex-senior executive at Microsoft and ex-senior Vice President of US Retail at Amazon. In 2010, he and his colleague Colin McElwee took a trip to Ecuador. Whilst there, they recognised a significant problem - most of the schools there had no or limited access to knowledgeable reading material.  In direct response, the two of them co-founded Worldreader. Its aim – to provide e-readers uploaded with digital books to children in impoverished communities across the world. As a result, over five million children and families now have free access to over 40,000 e-books (1).

So does simply having an idea and starting a business make you an entrepreneurial leader? Whilst the journey may start here, it certainly isn’t finite. Frequently questions raised should be: What are we trying to solve? Who can help? What do our people think? What technology do we need? Some of the key leadership skills for entrepreneurial leaders include the following:

1. Be builders, networkers, constructors

By this we mean not in the hardhat and high vis sense, but more metaphorically speaking. Just like any collaborative organism, such as ants, beavers, and bees; entrepreneurial leadership requires the instinct and ability to gather resources, build, develop and create. It also requires the understanding that a vision cannot be realised alone. Networks and connects need a web of support to provide support, objectivity, experience and encouragement. As the African proverb regarding teamwork goes: ‘if you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together’.

2. Foster playfulness

Playing is not just for children. Effective entrepreneurial leadership can direct a sense of play and fun amongst employees. All of which has been found to fuel imagination, creativity, problem-solving and emotional well-being, as well as encouraging cohesive encouragement. It’s not about accomplishing a specific goal though, more about sharing positive experiences. Play also often evolves into laughter which can foster trust, empathy and compassion, all effective traits in leadership (2).

3. Innovation

Innovation shouldn’t be confused with invention. Innovation uses an invention (whether that’s a product, new service or company) and pairs it with an innovative response to an event, history-specific problem or market opportunity. 

4. Openness to learning

Entrepreneurial leadership is synonymous with learning. Motivation comes from both a drive to shake up the traditional way of doing things and a continuing overriding curiosity about the world. Just like a toddler learning with a toy, ideas should be picked up, put down, changed, played with, and even destroyed before being resurrected into something more valuable and interesting.

5. Solid values

Good and sustainable entrepreneurial leaders see that fostering value for all around them (employees, customers, family etc.) means building themselves, their business and their activities into much healthier and happier entities. To do so requires solid values such as self-worth, transparency, culpability, fairness and equality.

6. Open and relaxed communication

The ability to be open and relaxed in the way you speak, instruct, or set expectations, is vital to ensuring good morale, empathy and trust among others. In addition, choosing the right medium to voice or receive messages is also incredibly important. For some entrepreneurial leaders effective and positive communication delivery comes naturally, for others it does require dedication to practice.

7. Clarity of vision

What is key to turning an idea into an actual solution and ultimately a business? How does someone keep that initial creative drive and spirit that ignited that idea alive, when they now employ hundreds of people? How does someone keep committed and passionate about the original idea, despite the twists and turns and alternative opportunities that may arise? The answer is often the same: clarity of vision. One of the most essential leadership skills for entrepreneurial leaders is the capacity to truly see what’s in their mind and harness that energy to drive forward. Vision is also the foundation and framework from which the whole culture and mechanics of an organisation’s culture thrives.

8. Make others your priority

To implement any vision needs great people. Entrepreneurial leadership requires the skill to recognise, nurture and empower talent. Take Mark Zuckerberg, founder and CEO of Facebook, as an example. To this day welcomes every new member of staff, despite employee numbers now reaching around 10,000. 

9. Expect and embrace the unexpected

Insight into one’s own shortcomings and overcoming any external barriers is fundamental to entrepreneurial leadership. In fact, encountering hardship, problems and issues can stimulate innovation and creation. For example; the conflict in Syria may have affected the people there in unimaginable ways, but it has not stopped entrepreneurs from using invention and innovation to resolve the problems and issues they encounter. Even in the toughest environment, over 150 start-ups were created in Syria in one year. According to figures, 17.6% of Syrian youth tried to work on start-ups in 2014 and this rose to 31.2% in 2015. It could therefore be argued that in conflict regions or areas suffering extreme hardship it inspires entrepreneurs to innovate and create. (3).

10. Trust

To follow a dream takes courage and, more often than not, the courage of those around you. For courage to be realised requires trust. Trust in yourself foremost, but also trust in others and their trust in you. Strong entrepreneurial leaders have the ability to trust in their convictions and give assurance to others.

So is there a relationship between entrepreneurial leadership and creative leadership? In today’s fast and transitioning world, both types of leadership are going to be increasingly important to deliver a positive future. We have moved on from the Industrial revolution and have both reaped the financial benefits yet plundered our ecosystems in the process. Entrepreneurial leadership can be an accelerant for growth, renovation and rebuilding. Creative leadership can evolve organisations from old-school ‘profit creation despite everything machines’ into places where doing good is integral to their journey. By a combination of both entrepreneurial and creative leadership traits, the philosophy is sustainable and yet things get done.

At HotHouse we provide creative leadership programmes that use the natural world to inspire fresh thinking, personal insight, development of a vision and a renewed focus on our internal emotional landscape: with time to wonder, respect, emphasise, ignite courage and trust. In the words of Richard Branson: “Screw business as usual.”


  1. '12 entrepreneurs who are changing the world’. Business Insider. Retrieved 17/01/2017.
  2. ‘The benefits of play for adults’. Lawrence Robinson, Melinda Smith M.A., Jeanne Segal Ph.D and Jennifer Shubin. Last updated: March 2018
  3. ‘Entrepreneurship in Conflict Zones’, Insights on the start-ups in Syria. Ahmed Sufian Bayram. Middle East and Africa Regional Manager, Techstars.