The Power of an Entrepreneurial Approach

Rob Siegfried explains how to embrace the difference between leadership and management


1. Understand what leadership is

Rob Siegfried, president and CEO of Siegfried Group, has heard many definitions for leadership but thinks the best one is stated rather simply: getting other people to do what you want them to do because they want to do it. Such a process involves focus and alignment, but it all starts with leadership.

To highlight his point, Siegfried reflects on a story from Stephen Covey about the challenging management decisions needed to make your way through a dense jungle. “How do you effectively cut your way through the jungle?” Siegfried asks. “What kind of team do you need? What kind of schedule do you need to do different shifts? How do you strengthen the team and sharpen their tools? While you are managing your way through, it is the leader that is hovering far above the tallest trees and is able to see the bigger picture and yelling down, ‘Wrong jungle!’ This is the leadership challenge. It’s so hard to step back, get in the ivory tower, get above it all, and be the leader.”

2. Realize that managers are not necessarily leaders

Siegfried points out that management theory and higher-learning programs that emphasize management accelerated in the 1950s. As companies from this era grew to supersized proportions, managing (which Siegfried defines as “directing and controlling, with skill”) became more of a necessity—with large organizations requiring and benefiting greatly from enhanced management. “It’s a tremendous challenge to be a leader of a large, bureaucratic organization,” Siegfried says. “It just needs so much management in order to be properly controlled.”

But while leaders are likely to do some degree of managing, the reverse isn’t always true; in fact, he considers most companies to be overmanaged and underled as a result, perhaps because leadership itself is emphasized so infrequently and taught so sparingly. “At the University of Delaware, they just started an undergraduate program in entrepreneurship and technology innovation and graduated their first entrepreneurial major—one,” says Siegfried, who serves as chair of the advisory board for the Alfred Lerner College of Business and Economics at the university. “That was out of almost 800 graduates in the business school! And that’s not atypical of collegiate business programs. Most business schools tuck leadership education in as a specialty within their MBA programs, which seems to me to clearly be emphasizing management over leadership.”

3. Appreciate the differences between an entrepreneurial company and a bureaucratic company, and the leadership potential within each

A great deal has been written about the difference between entrepreneurial and bureaucratic organizations. On one side of the spectrum, Siegfried explains, is the bureaucratic mind-set: highly structured and dealing in certainties; it values reason over emotion, and head over heart. Opposing it is the entrepreneurial mind-set, comprised of “activators” who are naturally inclined to take big chances in order to succeed.

“Entrepreneurs have structure, but they don’t let it get in the way,” Siegfried says. “They see ambiguity, even mistakes, as part of their natural environment. They’re relationship-focused and value emotion as well as logic.” Those with an entrepreneurial mind-set can also be highly effective as leaders in a bureaucratic company, often looking to take needed risks that others will not. “They’re change agents,” Siegfried says. “Their whole game is about change.”

4. Learn to embrace change

Management needs have stabilized in recent decades, but technology advances are accelerating competition more than ever before. This fact alone underscores the importance of accepting and dealing with change in general, but for leaders, Siegfried believes it is mandatory, and believes that improvement can’t come without it. “People like stability and security; they generally just aren’t willing to accept change as part of the landscape,” he says. “Those that are trained to be managers cannot always deal with today’s increasingly dynamic environment. I think that’s why we see so many companies fall out of the Fortune 500.”

5. Get empowered

According to Siegfried, only confident people are truly able to embrace change. Confident people are empowered people, he says, and most entrepreneurial leaders are empowered if they take the time to step back and see the bigger picture—and their bigger future. “Empowered leadership also attracts talent—the right kind of talent,” Siegfried says.

6. The sharper the focus, the more powerful the vision

One of Rob Siegfried’s colleagues and mentors, Verne Harnish, shared an analogy about how mere sunlight will do little harm to the human hand in an hour, but when sunlight is focused intently into a laser—the latter can cut through the human hand in an instant. “The power is in focus,” Siegfried says. “You can’t have any part of it diffused or pointing in another direction. You have to be crystal clear about your vision when you paint a picture of it for your organization and your followers.”

7. Align people with your plan

Twenty years ago, one of Siegfried’s mentors taught him that any company leader has three primary jobs: to set the strategic direction, to protect the underbelly of the business, and to develop its executives. This strategy boils down to alignment—making sure your strategy, people, clients, and processes are all headed in the same direction. “The secret to alignment is clarifying what you’re trying to do and how you’re trying to do it, so everyone can understand it,” Siegfried says. “Only then can they make the decision to commit.”

8. Be a difference maker

The entrepreneurial mind-set in any organization ultimately works as a snowball effect: embracing change results in making a difference, and difference makers attract the kind of rare talent that enables even more change.

So how can a typical executive adapt an entrepreneurial framework? “They have to see themselves and the organization they’re working for as high potential,” Siegfried says. “And they have to really believe they can do something about it. They have to be ambitious, get out of their comfort zone, and seek mentors. With most big things, it all starts with passion.”