Young: Building credibility key to entrepreneurial success

Three operatives of the entrepreneur—innovator, organize/manager and risk taker.

When you break the definition of an entrepreneur into its key elements, what you get are three operatives—innovator; organizer and manager and risk taker.

It is these basic elements that make a good business venture a great one.

However, dear friends, those are precisely the factors that will stunt growth if they’re not checked on from time to time and kept relevant in the context of future growth.

A good entrepreneur, the literature tells us, is also a builder of trust. You simply can’t do all of the other things an entrepreneur is supposed to do if you can’t get others to trust you. Trust begins with credibility, does it not? OK, it admittedly isn’t easy these days being an entrepreneurial leader. With trust, confidence levels and credibility dropping rapidly among employees leaders face an uphill task in rallying staff, conveying messages and moving forward toward the organizations goals.

The usual grouse I hear in the Okanagan is that leaders don’t show up, are not putting value on communication, aren’t straightforward, don’t listen, and don’t take feedback seriously from their personnel.

Establishing credibility amongst personnel, investors and the external world is just as important when dealing with individuals and organizations external to the venture. In a recent survey about my favourite topic, entrepreneurial leadership, leaders didn’t fare well on questions dealing with ethics and a willingness to admit mistakes. Although it is definitely true that a lack of ethics and an unwillingness to admit error can adversely affect internal operations of any entrepreneurial venture, they can also be devastating when our entrepreneur goes looking for investment capital.

I do lament the fact that surveys continue to report that trust among CEOs and leaders appears eroding. People tend to believe so-called experts and people like them instead of leaders. For example, it is truly not enough in these trying times for leaders to take decisions among themselves. Employees are seeking inclusion and transparent decision-making methodologies. Employees don’t seem to be convinced if their leaders are only visionaries and strategists. They expect them to gain their trust and walk the talk.

Building leadership credibility is also about being available, wearing multiple hats for the variety of scenarios that exist within any venture no matter how big or small and from the expectations of their role. To substantiate this point, the 2010 Great Places To Work Survey indicates that two-way communication; managers’ competence, and the integrity and reliability of management are keys to employees viewing the entrepreneurial organization as trustworthy.

Since good communication skills are absolutely essential to increasing credibility, I would like to offer some recommendations that I was able to eke out of my research on how skills can truly be improved.

Make communication your mantra: Often communication is the last resort when it comes to reviewing flagging morale or addressing a crisis—employees are not only expecting to get clarity on a host of topics such as revenue and growth but they also want to know what their venture leaders are doing about attrition, engagement and social and fiscal responsibility. Their interest clearly is about the honest, transparent practices within their organization, how the organization treats its people, how leaders listen and engage with relevant stakeholders. I reiterate that what’s good for internal communication is normally also good for external communications.

Be available: In conferences on great workplaces, I am told that most representatives shared how their leaders were approachable via chat shows, email and face-to-face sessions. In sum, good leaders must be available for their employees when asked.

Have your voice: Your employees appreciate hierarchy but are open to seeing it as a structure for better governance. As a leader, you are expected to communicate to those you find yourself in front of, be focused on the future, and articulate opinion and vision.

Align your managers.

Solve problems directly:

Be prepared to be scrutinized and treated as equals: Research tells us that our middle managers in an entrepreneurial venture are key to the success of any initiative or organizational goal. Getting managers to walk the floors is the most effective way to engage and gain trust. While an annual engagement survey will give us a sense of how the morale of our venture is, it helps to keep a regular tab via direct feedback mechanisms and face-to-face connections.

Being a “ hands-on leader” is seldom a challenge for an early stage entrepreneur. It becomes a greater challenge as the venture grows. As an entrepreneur, you need to help make the transition go smoothly by empowering the management team of your enterprise at every opportunity.

With information freely available and the speed at which it travels, organizations need to understand that entrepreneurial leaders can no longer be exempt from public scrutiny. What they do at work and outside will always be questioned and monitored even if it has no direct relevance to the venture’s prime business model, be it in their neighbourhoods, the supermarkets they use; the clubs they visit and the schools their children attend.

Dear readers, I am finding I could easily go on and on with my diatribe of suggestion and recommendation but, my reality and I truly hope, your reality, is that placing our personnel and clients/customers in the forefront of our enterprising mindset will work wonders in establishing a ground swell of positive outcome for our entrepreneurial world. Trust is magic, my friends, in everything we do in life not just as entrepreneurs but as citizens of the world.