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Is entrepreneurial leadership the way out of global recession?


THE MONEY HOUSECan all our problems be solved by entrepreneurs? Should we prioritise the creation of an entrepreneurial infrastructure? Patrice Houdayer, the dean of the international business school in Lyon, France explains the importance of entrepreneurial leaders - and the 10 pitfalls they must avoid.

As economic doom and gloom continue to sweep the globe, it seems that many of the key pillars of capitalism have proved somewhat less reliable than we might have hoped. So perhaps it is time to look for a new source of business inspiration, this time from the entrepreneur and, more specifically, the entrepreneurial leader.

Photo of PATRICE HOUDAYER"The true entrepreneurial leader enables and empowers, yet still retains responsibility and a clear understanding of the processes they set in motion."

Speaking at the latest annual World Entrepreneurship Forum at EM Lyon in November, Johan Stael von Holstein, founder of the global business incubator, IQUBE, voiced the opinion that: "Every problem will be solved eventually by an entrepreneur, which is why it is so important to have governments prioritise the creation of an entrepreneurial infrastructure to facilitate entrepreneurship and empower people." Whether Johan will be proved over-optimistic or completely accurate in his prediction remains to be seen, but there is little doubt in my mind that his faith in the entrepreneurial spirit is fully justified.

For many people, however, the concept of entrepreneurship still conjures up the idea of maverick individuals creating and running relatively small businesses. And, while they may admit that such businesses play an invaluable role in any healthy economy, these same people may question just how relevant entrepreneurship is to the major banks and corporations that wield so much influence in the modern world. My answer to these doubts would be that entrepreneurship - and entrepreneurial leadership in particular - are perhaps more important within large businesses than they are within the SME community.

In such uncertain times as these, large organisations need to be as flexible as possible, ready to change and develop rapidly to accommodate the shifting needs of their customers and the market as a whole. Yet many only pay lip-service to 'intrapreneurship' the internal version of classic entrepreneurship, or actively stifle it, fearing a loss of control. Recognising that 'intrapreneurs' often face an even wider range of challenges than their independent counterparts, professor Veronique Bouchard, who teaches on our Global Entrepreneurship Programme, has identified 10 pitfalls that intrapreneurial leaders should seek to avoid:

  1. Thinking and acting like an independent entrepreneur

  2. Counting on generous budgets, unlimited help and general goodwill

  3. Relying on a single powerful sponsor

  4. Taking too much notice (or no notice at all) of an immediate superior

  5. Making a project visible too early

  6. Concentrating on technical issues at the expense of the business plan

  7. Ignoring similar or competing projects within the organisation

  8. Postponing 'doing the numbers'

  9. Failing to clarify expected rewards in case of success

  10. Identifying too closely with a project

Of course the more cynical reader may doubt how much place entrepreneurial leadership has in the post sub-prime world. Is it not the route, they may ask, to the sort of ill-disciplined freedom of action that led us into the current crisis in the first place? In reply to this I would assert that entrepreneurship is not about removing all restrictions and ignoring the inherent dangers of unfettered risk. The true entrepreneurial leader enables and empowers, yet still retains responsibility and a clear understanding of the processes they set in motion. One only needs to have watched the recent interrogation of senior bankers in the US and UK to appreciate that our current problems stem from ignoring this assumption of responsibility. And it does not mean that the next generation of business leaders should be deprived of freedom of action. That way lies stagnation and even greater economic misery for us all.

Patrice Houdayer is dean of the international business school EM Lyon in France, which specialises in the teaching of entrepreneurship skills through its MBA and Global Entrepreneurship programmes


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