Entrepreneurial leadership: systems, energy, courage

My passion for understanding leadership began long before I incorporated by first startup. At the global level, for understanding how the one right leader can move entire economies. For understanding how the right leadership can help lift an organization from the doldrums of a disfunctional team in a bad economy, to the hights of cohesive, synchronous team performance, sometimes even in the same bad economy. For understanding how leaders can help keep their organizations relevant over time.

I’m an engineer by training, and by inclination.... I think in terms of systems—how to systemetically achieve design targets. I’m also an entrepreneur by choice and by passion.... and I think in terms of team energy—how to tap on the passions of your team members to drive execution. The desire to tap on both systems and energy might be perceived to be at odds. But I think they are mutually supportive goals for the well-rounded leader—the head and the heart need to be aligned. I believe that alignment is where authenticity comes from. The disciplines of logic and clarity driven by a systems perspective must prevail, but those disciplines can only take root in an organization when leaders energize the organization to do so. Those disciplines can only result in successful execution when the team is emotionally engaged in the mission. As a leader, those are also your two main responsibilities: systems and energy.

Having a clear perspective on what needs to be done is what many manage books are about.... the systems that you need to put in place to combat complacency, to grow leadership, to foster collaboration, to create empowered teams, to focus on returns, to planning your strategies. But there is one other thing you need....


Growing up professionally in the Internet industry in Silicon Valley, I tend to view the world as a constant stream of disruption. Silicon Valley is the source of a large proportion of that stream.... that steam that also happens to be one of the largest wealth creation engine in the history of human kind. And it’s only growing bigger and faster. When I work with executives from more traditional industries, I’m regularly amazed at how much can be accomplished by maintaining the status quo. But, because Internet/computing technology is enabling change in the rest of the industries at what is starting to look like a breakneck speed, I believe even the most traditional businesses will very soon have to think “disruption”, instead of “business-as-usual”.

It is sad to me that a boardroom full of intelligent, highly compensated individuals sometimes can’t figure out how to guide their companies through the next set of inevitable technology or business model disruptions, resulting in the financial ruin of the company they oversee. (I’m still wondering how the Kodak collapse happened.) Often times, this is a result of (a) the lack of appreciation at which (or even denial of how) the rate of change the new technologies will disrupt their businesses and (b) the unwillingness to risk disrupting their profit streams (that are thinning out in any case). Life is about change—yes, including for their businesses. And if they fight needed change in exchange for perceived control and predictability, they are fighting against life—for their businesses.

Courage. That is the final capability required of a leader. The courage to do the right things. The courage to think clear thoughts. The courage to soldier on, when most would have given up.

A leader’s motivation has to go beyond corporate effectiveness, efficiency, and profitability. The leader must have a belief that the goal he or she is driving towards has value beyond putting food on the table for his or her family. All great leaders believe in something greater than themselves. Guy Kawasaki talks about “making meaning”. That’s what leaders have to do. They have to articulate the meaning of their organization beyond survival and operational details. If you, as a leader, understand the “heart” of your organization, then you can engage it’s energy to drive the systems needed to succeed.

I wish you all the very best in your choice to lead.... in your choice to make a difference in other peoples’ lives.