How to successfully manage the move from entrepreneur to leader

A blackboard illustration of a yellow paper plane to illustrate the move from entrepreneur to leader

Moving from entrepreneur to leader is one of the major hurdles on the road to success. To manage it successfully you need to learn how to trust others, says author and speaker Graham Wilson

So many business leaders struggle to reap the rewards of their efforts. Many leaders of expanding businesses, who have made the leap from start-up to fast growth, tell me it was so much easier when they didn’t employ people.

They are stressed, overwhelmed and unsure of how to get the best out of their teams. Yet they realise that to grow the business they need more people. What a dilemma!

Many entrepreneurs don’t realise in the early days that leading a business is a continuous learning process. As your business grows, your leadership capability and entrepreneurial drive need to adapt and evolve. You can’t do it all yourself anymore – you need to move from entrepreneur to leader.

In the 1950s it took approximately four minutes to do a pit stop for a racing car. Now the car barely stops. The rules were different then, but F1 teams have adapted and changed the way they do it based on new rules and new technology.

Many leaders don’t recognise the rules of leading the business have changed and they need to lead in a different way. They are using outdated tools and old techniques.

Imagine if you turned up at an F1 pit stop today with your cotton trousers and shirt, a big lump hammer to remove the locking nuts, a cloth to wipe the windscreen and a bit of fuel. You would have looked great in the 1950s, but hey… maybe a bit out of place today.

Many entrepreneurs make the fatal mistake of not changing their leadership behaviour from being a control freak, which served them well in start-up mode, to a more enabling and empowering style.

When you start out you are living and breathing your business. As success comes your way you have to entrust your baby to the team. So what does great leadership look like in a fast-growth business?

How to move from entrepreneur to leader

Your leadership focus has to be in the right place. You have to be clear that your role as the leader of a fast-growth business is to create a high-performance environment where success is inevitable. You have to make the shift and get the balance right between working ‘in the business’ and ‘on the business’.

It is no good just you having all the passion and energy – to deliver extraordinary results you need to operate in a collaborative and inclusive way and to awaken possibility within your team. You need to be a purpose maximiser as well as a profit maximiser.

You have to remain bold, keep things simple and still operate with speed.  You need to take time to understand yourself, be self-aware and have a story to tell.

You need to develop an authentic leadership brand and build on your strengths. Have the courage to be vulnerable, to be the real you. You need to make sure you share your leadership philosophy, build trust and be positive, healthy and happy. Energy and vitality is essential; you need to keep yourself fit.

Doing all this will create engagement with your team. They will want to be in your business and make it a success. The culture comes from you.

Have the courage to go out on a limb, be bold, tell stories and give examples that ensure meaning and inspire action. As Simon Sinek says, start with why.

You need to implement a team-development process. Be comfortable with collaboration, empowerment and autonomy and know how to build many different types of teams quickly. Make sure people are valued and playing to position. Create a sense of team pride.

To stay ahead of the competition you must unleash innovation. You need to create a culture where everyone comes up with great ideas to improve performance and add value. Innovate in every aspect of business. Be a relentless discoverer! Make sure you exploit new technology and platforms.

In complex and ambiguous times you need to manage ambiguity. Be comfortable managing paradoxes. For example, we should be thinking about reducing costs and adding value for customers at the same time.

You need to make the complex simple, have one-page plans and understand the need to let them evolve, to remain agile. Be mentally tough and resilient to deal with a world in perpetual crisis. Stay in touch with the real world.

You need to educate. Help people and organisations learn, inspire curiosity, ensure learning is applied, lead with questions, coach, develop and nurture capability.

You must execute at pace. Translate strategy into meaning and inspire action. To join the dots you need to deliver through people and teams. Then  you will have moved move from entrepreneur to leader.

About author

Graham Wilson

Graham Wilson

Graham Wilson is an international speaker on leadership, founder of Successfactory and author of Leadership Laid Bare. You can find out more at

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