So You Want To Be An Entrepreneur…

I often get calls from senior executives after they’ve lost their jobs or get fed up with corporate bureaucracy. As they seek my advice and connections, (connections often meaning “do you have some business for me?”), what often comes up is their desire to find the perfect entrepreneurial opportunity.

I’m tough with them as I lead them through some self-exploration. Among the hard questions I ask is: Do you really understand what it means to be an entrepreneur? How long can you go without a paycheck, while funding yourself? Are you willing to be selling all the time…especially when you’re selling your vision? Are you willing to do all it takes to be successful?

What usually emerges from our conversations is that these long-time corporate leaders don’t have a clue what’s involved in being an entrepreneur and have done nothing remotely entrepreneurial in their past (visualize most of them cringing at the selling part).

Quite simply, while they love the idea of telling everyone they’re an entrepreneur, they aren’t able and willing to do everything it takes to be one, as they have no, or very few entrepreneurial skills.

What I mean by entrepreneurial skills can fill several missives, but for now I’ll reflect on one in particular.

One of the more critical…but less obvious…differences I’ve noticed between many who’ve been successful in the corporate hive and those who’ve been successful as entrepreneurs, is how they internalize the concept of “blame” or “fault.”

To be successful as an executive in the world of large corporations, many have developed the very shrewd skill of knowing exactly how to best divert blame and fault away from themselves when projects go awry. In this way, they won’t wind up taking the fall for mistakes.

Conversely, in the world of entrepreneurship, especially startups and very early stage businesses, this exact same “survival by blame diversion” won’t work. There is nowhere for blame to fall but squarely on the shoulders of the entrepreneur.

This is a key reason why those with little to no corporate experience have a better chance at succeeding in the world of entrepreneurship. They haven’t learned nasty corporate habits. They understand from the start that they must “own” everything…including all failures.

Conversely, seasoned corporate executives, with no entrepreneurial experience, often don’t know how to “own” failure, so they don’t know how to learn from it, get past it, and continue onward. They may be experts at knowing how to divert responsibility onto others less powerful but when they bring this skill with them to a start up or a fledgling company, well, we all know how this ends…

Moral of the story:

If you are a corporate leader looking to change gears, be aware that entrepreneurship requires certain skills you may not already possess or be able to acquire.

Understand that the transition to entrepreneurship requires deep thinking and self-awareness. Just one of many questions to ask yourself: Are you able to take the blame and learn from the failures?


For stories about CEO blame diversion I offer you two previous missives:

Core Values: Walk the Talk

Tale of Two Leaders

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