Being A Leader As An Entrepreneur

March 9, 2009

Look in the mirror and what do you see? Do you see a leader or do you see a follower? This is the question that I have been asking college students across the country from some of the best schools in the nation for our internship program. With polished resumes and sometimes rehearsed responses, many interviewees were actually taken a back when I asked them this question. While some may expect the normal response to be a simple ‘Follower’ or ‘Leader,’ I want to know why.

Part of what we are looking for in candidates for our Campus Entrepreneur Internship Program are individuals who have not only an entrepreneurial edge to them, but also have a leadership quality to them. From the candidates point of view, they may want to ask me why it is important to be leader when it is only an internship. The easiest for way for me to explain it is because part of being an entrepreneur and starting your own business is being able to lead others.

So what separates the leader from the follower? From my own experiences, I have noticed that all great leaders have great confidence in themselves and also their team. An example I often use to explain the difference between a leader and a follower is to look at sports. Who are the superstars, and who are the role-players. It is easy to replace a role-player, but it is difficult to replace a superstar. Superstars excel above the rest, and lead by example. As an entrepreneur, you take on many different roles. From accounting to marketing, entrepreneurs must be confident in their capabilities and be able to pick up any task and be ready to lead others who are unsure how to approach a situation. As a entrepreneur, you must not wait for people to teach you how to do something but rather you must want to learn it yourself.

Speaking with one of the interviewees about whether they were a follower or a leader, they responded that they see themselves as a more of a follower because they like to sit back and learn from people who have more experience. While there is nothing wrong with the response, I feel that to be a great entrepreuneur, you must want to be more than just someone who takes orders from others. You must have the desire and passion to one day be able to make important decisions and to have people come to you when they need advice. Part of what this internship program is about, is taking someone who see’s themselves as being the leader ‘type’ and giving them the tools to be one.

Most recently I had a talk with my good friend and CEO, Yu-Kai Chou. We talked about how the internship program interviews were going and he asked me what drove me to work as hard as I did when I was part of the internship program less than one year ago. As part of the internship program I was mentored by my friend and CMO, Jun Loayza. From his mentorship, I was able to learn about topics ranging from marketing and networking to SEO and social media. For myself, the passion to learn and to prove myself to others is what drove me. When a project was completed, I didn’t wait for another project to be given to me, but rather asked for one. My desire to help out the company didn’t stop their, but extended to my teammates as well. Their success, was my success. Jun not only taught me through his lessons and projects, but also through his own example that he set for the interns and myself.  I am a firm believer that if you believe that you have limits without first finding them out, you are selling yourself short of your potential. I am still trying to find my limit.

While some people are confident with their responses when asked if they are a leader or a follower, it is understandable that some may not be sure what to say. For most of us, we learn if we a leader or a follower early on as a child. Whether it was when playing with friends and wanting to pick what game to play, or at school as the playground monitor, finding out whether you are a leader or follower is essentially a job audition. For those that still don’t know if they are a follower or leader, the time will come when it becomes clear which of the two they are.

When I was in college, I remember a quote from Harry Truman that I felt was a great quote about what a leader is:

“Men make history and not the other way around. In periods where there is no leadership, society stands still. Progress occurs when courageous, skillful leaders seize the opportunity to change things for the better.” – Harry Truman

We live in a time where you can be anything you want to be. Go out their and seize the opportunity.

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  • Reply Jun Loayza March 9, 2009 at 9:19 am

    First of all, I think you have an awesome picture here. The elephant walking with the bird on his back is awesome.

    Second of all, does an entrepreneur have to be a leader? I like to debate against people because I feel it makes for a better post.

    Great leaders lead with questions, not answers. Does this mean that they have follower qualities as well? For example, if Yu-kai wanted to know about the marketing side of FD, he would ask me about it rather than try to figure it out on his own.

    Ultimately, I believe that a great leader leads w/ questions, but has the final say on all decisions. To be able to confidently make final decisions, you need to have an innate ability that people respect and follow.

    Good post Joe

    – Jun

  • Reply June March 9, 2009 at 3:43 pm

    Great post!

    I think being a leader is also about keeping a high-level view of the organizational goals / purpose / vision as a whole. It’s also about the ability to encourage dissension as well as unify a team behind final decisions. It’s about listening to your team members’ points of view, being willing to learn from others, and integrating all parts of the organization to make the best decisions.

    I don’t think you necessarily have to be a leader to be an entrepreneur. Is the entrepreneur the CEO managing the organization or the guy inventing great technologies in the back? He/she can be either person.

  • Reply Joseph Yi March 13, 2009 at 1:09 am

    @Jun – Definitely agree with you about a leader leading with questions. That’s what makes Yu-Kai and yourself great leaders!

    @June – You bring up a great point. Being a leader isn’t just 2 or 3 characteristics only, but many things. How are things?

  • Reply Yu-kai March 15, 2009 at 12:30 am

    Haha, great post!

    Jun is quite good at spotting the bird being the main theme of his picture. I didn’t notice that until Jun pointed it out. I was looking at what the elephant is stepping on 🙂

    I think an entrepreneur doesn’t necessarily have to be a leader, but s/he must have the drive, initiative and persistence. He needs to be that person who is not afraid of failure and willing to go that extra mile.

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