Real Leaders

How to Move from Paralysis to Entrepreneurship in Unpredictable Times

Illustration and painting.

How do we strike the balance between extreme caution and necessary risk-taking when navigating a crisis? Many of us in the third month of quarantine are experiencing a bifurcation between daily personal and business experiences. At home, we embrace a highly conservative posture. We’ve cut spending to protect our rainy-day fund, organized our kids around a highly routine schedule, and eliminated all unnecessary trips to the store and physical contact with non-family members. 

But within our business lives, a decade’s worth of change has transpired in just a few short weeks, and the same conservative posture would be destructive. The only certainty right now is that we will be living with uncertainty for an extended period, and business leaders must embrace and foster an entrepreneurial mindset in order to adapt. Acting successfully and strategically in this environment requires the ability to move forward with limited resources and a dearth of information. 

Adopting an entrepreneurs’ mindset enables business leaders to continuously and thoughtfully adjust in an environment of ever-changing circumstances. Here are three entrepreneurial strategies that will help business leaders move forward amid the extreme uncertainty we face today. 

1. Be Transparent with Your Employees

Entrepreneurs are focused on expanding and creating resources to benefit their companies, their employees, and investors. A true entrepreneurial mindset — the kind that is able to evolve and lead a team through hard and unpredictable circumstances — is authentic. Entrepreneurs can imagine how circumstances may evolve to support a compelling vision, but they can also adjust when the reality diverges from what was expected. They know how to articulate this divergence and instill confidence among employees to calibrate toward eventual success. 

The key to success in this approach is transparency: Be honest and open about the challenges your company is facing, and create a forum for discussion and discourse. Transparency ensures that your team has the insight needed to trust your vision. It makes them feel valued and gives them the opportunity to propose solutions to the challenges you’re facing. Collecting ideas from your entire organization, not just the people at the top, gives you a much better chance of choosing and executing on projects that drive your business forward; the team members you don’t trust with knowledge of your challenges can’t provide valuable insights.

Transparency, however, goes beyond sharing the truth. Itis a learned skill that requires you to gain clarity about the relevant information you know — and don’t know — so you can focus yourself and your team on solving the right problems. 

2. Make Room for Creativity

Entrepreneurs are natural problem-solvers. To adopt their mindset, you need to give yourself time to think creatively about the challenges your business is facing. That means that you can’t involve yourself in every aspect of the business; a hands-on approach leaves no room to develop a supportive team that’s invested in your collective success. A leader with an entrepreneurial mindset gives employees the freedom to solve issues inside your company in ways you can’t even understand, freeing you to work on the company.  

To make room for creativity, delegate any tasks that don’t require your authority or expertise. Offload higher-level projects, like business development and efficiency improvement, to employees in those areas and all of your admin and other low-level work to an assistant. This will allow you to focus on strategic initiatives without burdening your employees with tasks that distract from their core responsibilities. 

3. Act Fearlessly with Your Clients

During tough times, it’s tempting to put on a brave face in front of your clients and pretend that business is going great. When you act that way during a crisis, though, you miss out on a powerful opportunity for connection. 

The pandemic has affected nearly every area of the economy, and many of your clients are struggling; those who aren’t likely have many customers or close connections who are. When you act fearlessly and are vulnerable about your own challenges, you encourage them to do the same, opening up a conversation about how you can support each other through the crisis. This transforms your relationship from a purely transactional one into a long-term, dedicated partnership. 

In my own company, we contacted each of our clients at the beginning of the quarantine. In doing so we identified many who might have canceled our service but only needed a bit of short-term help to keep us on. By extending generosity wherever we could, we enhanced our reputation and strengthened our bond with clients who have the potential to be valuable accounts long after the current economic difficulties. Not only did this save us future business development dollars to replace accounts but it also fostered a sense of confidence and pride among our own team. 

We’re all working through the same turbulence currently, and there’s a lot we can learn from entrepreneurs. They’re confident in their company’s ability to reach an attractive destination even if they lack confidence in any given waypoint on the journey to get there, and we can take a similar outlook. The crisis allows — and requires – that we adopt an entrepreneurial mindset: developing and acting with transparency, delegating to make room for critical creative thinking, and acting fearlessly with clients. This boldness will ultimately allow us all to act in a more measured and protective way in all areas of our lives.  

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