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  • Writer's pictureTony Richards

What Does It Take to Be A Successful Entrepreneurial CEO?

This is a very tricky topic, because the traditional business CEO role has many identical traits to an entrepreneurial CEO, but I think there are a few distinctive differences that are needed in early-stages of new businesses or older traditional-type businesses that are trying to integrate either vertically or horizontally with new ventures or projects that are believed to serve them well in the future.

One example that comes to mind for this would be a Wal-Mart business that has traditionally been brick-and-mortar but also needs to be entrepreneurial toward the e-commerce side, which may require an entirely separate or at least, very different skill-set leader.

Another example would be a Netflix, which has gone through a couple of different iterations in its 20 years history. It’s gone from mail-order DVD rental distribution to a complete on-line streaming delivery system. There are probably many ways to try to assess the skills and traits of a successful entrepreneurial CEO, and I am sure many of you who read this post can contribute some that haven’t come to my mind. One of the things that I think makes it difficult is that you must combine the two roles of entrepreneur and CEO, and to my mind, that person is very unique and not easy to find because the skills are often to each side of a broad spectrum.

Being an entrepreneurial CEO is difficult because you must combine two very different roles, Entrepreneur and CEO.

There are many CEOs who could never start a successful company, but they can brilliantly lead one that is already established, or even more difficult, turn one around that was once successful. By the same token, there are many entrepreneurs who cannot scale up a business to be highly productive and valuable.

Here’s my take on a few essential abilities for an entrepreneurial CEO:

1. Ability to balance big thinking, big vision and true reality  

This CEO has to be able to think big and have big dreams. They also have to be able to map out that vision to a highly valuable future state with a realistic bent to it. It’s difficult to sometimes truly have a feel for how fast and how long it’s going to realistically “get there”.

2. Ability to assemble a team that can execute

Some leaders have the knack for putting great management teams together, but for the entrepreneurial CEO, they have to have a keen understanding of what seats they need on their bus, which will probably be limited and then being able to get people who they can get the absolute most out of on execution.

3. Ability to quickly shift gears. 

How many times has your intuition failed you? In entrepreneurial situations, you don’t get many second chances, so your gut feeling on when to change gears (like Netflix) and what gear to change to has to be spot on. This reminds me of Jim Collins maxim of “fire bullets, not cannonballs” to make sure you are on the right track, and then if you are, fire all your guns at the target.

4. Ability to be a mix between storyteller, evangelist and promoter 

Because the entrepreneurial CEO will be tasked with communicating with employees, customers, partners, lenders and perhaps investors, they have to have strong skills in the area of sales to all these groups. Being able to tell the story, convert people and promote your solution, result or cause with a high degree of brevity, effectiveness and clarity is what you need to do.

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