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The Entrepreneurial Leader: How to Recruit

The computer and digital revolutions of the last four decades have made heroes of entrepreneurs. Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, and Mark Zuckerberg are household names.

Entrepreneurs are distinguished by a desire to learn and pursue opportunities.

Even more than their penetration into our national consciousness, entrepreneurs have penetrated our business consciousness. People in business or headed to business careers, even if they aren’t literally entrepreneurs, aspire to entrepreneurial traits such as innovation and nimbleness.

But, as a recent Harvard Business Review points out, the heroic stance attributed to entrepreneurs has also given rise to a number of myths about what entrepreneurs are like. To businesses wanting to recruit an entrepreneurial leader, believing those myths can impede actually finding that leader.

Three Stereotypes Versus Reality

The HBR notes that entrepreneurs and general business managers share some broad similarities. But entrepreneurs separate from general business managers in four distinct ways.

First, they are far more likely to seek adventure, learning, and opportunity. It is this quality, rather than the stereotypical belief that entrepreneurs are more creative, that allows them to be enjoy new experiences and be more likely to assume that things can be done better. They often have a vision of how those things can be done differently.

Second, entrepreneurs are more comfortable with risk. They can live with uncertainty that would lead to undue stress for many general managers. They tend to be motivated by uncertain environments, rather than be made uncertain themselves.

Third, while the entrepreneurial stereotype pinpoints ambition as a motivator, in fact, entrepreneurs are motivated by a strong desire to take ownership of projects.

Fourth, entrepreneurs do conform to stereotype in one crucial way. They are born salespeople, who can seamlessly convince people. This is related to their vision.

How to Recruit

The HBR article suggests that companies seeking to recruit entrepreneurs should assess the four traits as part of their interview and onboarding strategy.

How to assess a desire for adventure, learning, and opportunity and comfort with risk? Ask questions such as “Are you willing to get into trouble to make something important happen?” Blue sky questions can also be revealing, such as “There is a mission to colonize Mars. Have a conversation between the part of yourself that would go and the part that would stay.”

One method of assessing a candidate’s ability and desire to take ownership of projects is to look at their past history of project ownership. Have they joined clubs, or found them? In earlier positions, have they spearheaded initiatives or contribute to those already in development? Search committees can ask open-ended questions such as “What business leaders do you most admire?”

To determine their degree of salesmanship, the interview room itself can be a laboratory. Many entrepreneurs are convincing in their interview statements because they believe they can do the job and, thus, are completely able to make others believe it. Questions like “What is the difference between persuading a group of executive peers and selling to customers,” might be asked.

Finally, psychometric testing is a sure way of revealing the hidden traits, characteristics and predictable actions of candidate post-hiring.

While entrepreneurs have become household names, the status also carries some stereotypes. Businesses looking for entrepreneurial candidates need to be aware of the stereotypes and the real differences between entrepreneurs and general candidates to recruit the former effectively.