Entrepreneurial Leadership: The value of innovation and creativity in shaping the work of leaders and organizations

Jeffrey D. Yergler, Ph.D.
Principal, Integer Leadership Consulting
integerleadership.com
[email protected]

I have the privilege of working in San Francisco as faculty member in the management discipline of a university that focuses primarily on business. Working in this location has provided a “front row seat” to the innovation and disruption that results when new businesses, most often led by driven entrepreneurs, apply their creativity to the design of their organizations. Often, one of the many hallmarks of these successful young entrepreneurs is the way they exercise leadership.

The success of so many of these start-ups has encouraged me to research the leadership styles of CEOs in successful, privately held companies in San Francisco and Silicon Valley for the last 6 months. The participants have provided important data on the way they think about leadership theory, they way they see themselves as leaders, their philosophy that drives the way they lead in their organizations, and what they actually do operationally to motivate, generate creativity, and exercise accountability.

The approach to leadership of many of these entrepreneurs has been nothing short of revolutionary. Why? Because the model often followed stands in stark contrast to the way leadership is “typically” practiced in many of our more traditional organizations where the use of position power, fear, and the power to reward and coerce are the levers of choice to get work accomplished. The impact this has on employee performance is nothing short of damaging and destructive. Furthermore, this style of leadership, expressed through the work of management, can undermine self-efficacy and can actually produce exactly what leadership does not want: diminished levels of morale leading to inadequate performance and increasing levels of employee disengagement.

Another reason why these findings are significant is that they call into question the viability of existing leadership styles that are built around the use of power, the inaccessibility and lack of visibility of the leader. All of these components including inappropriate uses of power, inaccessibility, and lack of visibility are rejected by these creative leaders who have chosen another leadership paradigm. It has been argued that the bubble that is Silicon Valley and San Francisco rewards those start-ups and the more mature businesses originally launched as small start-ups when they engage in “out of the box” and “on the edge” creativity and innovation. Though true, this innovation and creativity, unique to this area, should in no way be an excuse for not paying attention to this region’s emerging trends that are subtly rewriting the way leadership is exercised on a global scale.

The following are seven of the emerging themes, along with a brief description of each theme, that have emerged in my research of successful leaders in this very unique region.

Clearly, every organization is different and no one template can be used to evaluate the way a particular organization functions. Yet, as you think about how the above seven themes might be applied in your organization or department, find the core substance in these areas that inform the thinking behind the actions of these leaders and integrate them into your own thinking and practice as a leader. There are no formulas or leadership algorithms here, only signs that point toward a general direction and an emerging future. The application is left to the good judgment of the leader given his or her unique context and environmental/ organizational constraints.

In my work as a consultant and management professor, I want to bring solutions and ideas that will change the way organizations work and the way people will find meaning and new levels of performance. As Bob Johansen (2009) observed, leaders must learn to operate in a world characterized by volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity. Those leaders willing to innovate and welcome new ways of interacting with people and creating an environment where innovation and people can thrive will find their way forward in an increasingly uncertain and unpredictable world. Johansen, B. (2009). Leaders make the future. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Publishers.

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