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Leading organizational innovation requires the traits of an “entrepreneurial leader.”

Leading organizational innovation requires the traits of an “entrepreneurial leader.”

Even those with the qualities of being a “mentor” may exhibit different behaviors and have varying approaches due to their different starting points. As a result, what people see in their leadership style can also differ:

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  • Some “mentor” leaders particularly enjoy giving guidance and correcting others’ viewpoints.
  • Others may be opinionated, believing that others’ ideas are flawed, and only their own ideas are correct.
  • Some executives have a strong inclination for learning; they eagerly share their newfound knowledge with the team to showcase their talents.
  • Certain leaders enjoy motivating and inspiring their team; they enthusiastically provide long-winded speeches whenever they’re in the mood.
  • And there are leaders who relish posing challenging philosophical questions, assigning homework for the team to ponder upon.

Up to this point, this topic becomes interesting. I’ve noticed that good leaders often possess the trait of being a “mentor,” but being a “mentor” alone doesn’t necessarily make someone a good leader. Simply equating being a “mentor” with being a good leader is too simplistic, as it focuses too much on surface-level characteristics. Therefore, throughout this process, I’ve also started honing my “discerning eye.” Here are three types of leadership behaviors that require particular attention and scrutiny.

The first type: “Self-indulgent” leaders.

Leaders with this personality trait typically exhibit the following behaviors:

  • They have a high self-assessment of their leadership, creativity, talent, and knowledge.
  • They tend to be impulsive, highly active, naturally sensitive, and indulgent.
  • Their decision-making is often based on intuition and can be hasty and arbitrary.
  • They aspire to grow and be prominent, craving attention.
  • They are reluctant to delegate and prefer to centralize power in their own hands (information is also a form of power).
  • They believe that what they know is more important than what others know.

Leaders of this type are often easily noticeable in a crowd and tend to rise to leadership positions due to their high self-expectations. Many well-known leaders, such as Jack Welch, Steve Jobs (in his early career), and Bill Gates, fall into this category. In the book “Nervous Organizations,” organizations created by such leaders are referred to as performance-oriented organizations.

The second type: “Positive Affirmation” Leader

Leaders with this personality trait typically exhibit the following behaviors:

  • They always encourage others in a very positive and uplifting manner.
  • They have extreme love for their organization, work, and industry, and they tend to interrupt and discourage anyone displaying negative emotions.
  • They tend to offer positive affirmations regardless of whether the other person can accept them or not.
  • They frequently share motivational quotes and phrases.
  • They are obsessed with self-help and motivational theories.
  • They are willing to be the confidant and mentor for others.

These leaders often serve as the glue that holds teams together. Their positive demeanor can inspire the team to be highly motivated and optimistic. However, due to their excessive positivity, they can create polarizing effects: those who appreciate them really appreciate them, while those with strong opinions may find their leadership style off-putting.

The third type: “Mentor” Leader

Leaders with this personality trait typically exhibit the following behaviors:

  • They consistently become thought leaders, earning the respect and admiration of others.
  • Employees often seek answers and guidance from them, as they are eager to pass on their past experiences.
  • They tend to overshadow others with their extensive knowledge, being well-versed in many subjects, and they seem to know everything.
  • They engage with employees through questioning to explore answers.

These leaders are seen as the “big brother” or “mentor” in the eyes of many, with rich experience and wisdom. They always offer their insights and solutions in a compelling and consistent manner, making it difficult for others to refuse their guidance. Such leaders have strong charisma that makes it hard for people to resist their influence.

Why do I mention these three types of leaders and why should we be cautious? The reason is not that they are “bad” leaders; in a sense, they represent typical examples of “good” leaders. They are very willing to consider the growth of their employees and place equal importance on employee growth and company growth. Many times, their leadership behaviors can inject a lot of energy into employees. However, these leaders often operate with a mindset of “I know, you don’t know” and “I am the authority,” which works well in situations where external market conditions are stable, providing employees with a sense of security. However, when we find that the environment is becoming more VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, Ambiguous), these previously effective methods may no longer work. Organizations today need both performance and innovation, and teams are becoming increasingly challenging to lead. The presence of different generations (70s, 80s, 90s) in the workplace means that previously effective approaches are no longer effective, and people have various legal concerns. In this context, leaders have no choice but to “change.”

My friend said that we are facing the fourth revolution: the creativity revolution. The core of future organizational transformation is to stimulate creativity. Therefore, organizational transformation, especially innovation, is a challenge that every business leader needs to face. However, this is also one of the most difficult challenges. There is a saying that goes, “No innovation means death, and seeking innovation means courting death.” Throughout history, there have been many cases of organizational innovation, from the reforms of Shang Yang to the Meiji Restoration and to the reform and opening-up led by Deng Xiaoping in modern times. However, truly successful cases are few and far between. Therefore, we can say that organizational transformation is a perilous journey, and organizational innovation is even more perilous. So where does the driving force for organizational innovation come from? What needs to change? How should it change?

We believe that the driving force for organizational innovation mainly comes from the leader, especially the top leader’s imagination of the future organization. Without a vision of a better organization, it is challenging to drive innovation in the organization. Secondly, “what needs to change” involves changes in the underlying operating system of the organization. To use an analogy, it’s like transitioning from using Nokia phones running on the Symbian system to using Android or Apple iOS phones. Without proper preparation for systematic leadership to guide organizational innovation, the journey is likely to be abandoned midway.

Leaders facing crises do not see crises as opposition but as necessary conditions to face, so they have a great deal of tolerance for the environment and are willing to create conditions when necessary. Especially in the current economic downturn with significant pressure, as we face an increasingly VUCA external market, leaders need to lead organizational innovation by making growth the engine and possessing the ability to balance the external world, self, and relationships with others. I call these leaders “entrepreneurial leaders.”

Three Key Abilities

So, for entrepreneurial leaders, three key abilities are particularly important:

  1. The ability to look outward and rapidly perceive upgrades based on changes in the external market. There is a statistical analysis of economic data related to the recent pandemic, and our economic growth is expected to slow down by 0.5-1%. The retail industry has suffered heavy losses, and the industry is undergoing a reshuffle. During this process, we have indeed seen some leaders treating the pandemic as a training ground, quickly changing their business tracks, rapidly adjusting their perceptions, constantly seeking self-reflection, seeking feedback, and refining themselves in their actions.
  2. The ability to continuously self-evolve, self-adjust, and ignite the organization’s creative vitality. When the economic situation is good, many companies have done well with their inertia. However, if you continue to use old methods for new tasks, the organization may easily end up “putting old wine in a new bottle” without achieving new results. Therefore, at this time, we see some entrepreneurial leaders with an entrepreneurial spirit pressing a “hold” button for themselves, allowing themselves to break away from the old system, adapt flexibly, expand their boundaries, embrace the concept of “I don’t know I don’t know,” invite the team, and collectively construct the underlying logic of organizational innovation to stimulate the creative vitality of organization members.
  3. The ability to maintain self-assurance in an uncertain macro-environment. Many companies are currently discussing when they can resume work and return to normal. They hope to get an accurate answer from experts. However, as Nassim Taleb, the author of “The Black Swan,” said: “We always think we have mastered all knowledge but fail to realize that the societies we mock in the past have had the same thoughts.” Therefore, when faced with uncertainty, entrepreneurial leaders continually introspect, challenge themselves, dive deep into the depths of their consciousness, “remember their original aspirations and missions,” open their minds, open their hearts, and open their wills. Only then can they reach a new level of self-awareness, consider problems from different perspectives, and possibly drive change, making transformation a possibility.

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