A boss expects results. A mentor inspires them. If you’re the latter, you know that the employees with the most potential, the ones you hired because they had that certain spark may also be the same ones who eventually leave to start their own enterprises. Non-competes are over-rated.
It doesn’t have to be that way. In fact, one of the greatest assets you can find in any employee is an entrepreneurial spirit. The key is being able to identify which staff members are the real deal and then finding ways to encourage and cultivate those talents within the company. Corporations that seek entrepreneurial spirits and reward them for following their instincts are far less likely to lose these valuable human resources than those who don’t.
Long before I owned my own company, the bosses who supported my inner-entrepreneur not only benefitted by it when I worked for them, after I left, the new departments that I’d created and resulting revenue streams continued to thrive. It was a win-win for everyone. I got valuable experience and was able to fast-track my career in the entertainment business by building upon those achievements, and the companies found new markets through the innovations I introduced.
As a talent agent and manager, I’ve learned that the most ingenious and industrious employees will do much more for your bottom line if they put their corporate lens away and instead navigate opportunity like an entrepreneur.
Here are some things that I always reinforce to my staff with suggestions on how you can bring out the inner-entrepreneur in your employees:
- You don’t have to own your own business to be an entrepreneur.
A lot of employees, especially those who are new to the workforce, are hesitant to express creative ideas or take the initiative because they’re afraid of being shot down. One of the best ways that you can bolster their confidence is to share with them examples of how you built your career, the risks you took, the opportunities you seized, and within those stories, highlight the entrepreneurial aspects and offer examples of how they can apply that same ingenuity right now, and why it will earn your respect.
- An entrepreneur never thinks about why something can’t be done; we focus all our energy on how it can be done.
Being flexible and able to adapt under pressure is another hallmark of entrepreneurialism that lends itself well to the corporate world, too. It’s easy to make excuses when you hit a wall, but the employee who can pivot quickly and keep coming up with one idea after another until that wall turns into a door, are more likely to pull that off when they know the company has their back.
- Don’t let someone else’s bad day make you forfeit an opportunity you’ve worked hard for. Find your spine and regroup. Don’t quit!
That doesn’t mean suggesting to an employee that it’s okay if someone disrespects them to simply let it go, but you also don’t want them just leaving in a cloud of defeat. Share some of your own experiences and how you used those moments to find your spine and strengthen it.
I always tell my staff that when their courage is tested, they need to see it as an investment in a “Resiliency IRA” fund, and each time they survive something that deepens their emotional intelligence, it’s like putting money into that account. If you can help your employees to do the same thing, when they’re faced with a serious crisis at work one day, instead of panicking they’ll be able to draw upon those savings to get them through. This is something entrepreneurs are masterful at: taking a challenging situation that would knock the wind out of anyone else, using it as fuel to hone their talent, and then banking the lesson for future use.
- Entrepreneurs identify a void and figure out how to fill it. We look beyond the obvious.
Within every company, whether it’s a large corporation or small to mid-size business, are subtle yet potentially powerful opportunities that the right employee, if they’re creative enough, can seize to showcase their talents internally or to fill a void in the market.
Training employees to look for niches that have either been overlooked or that others haven’t been able to fill efficiently or effectively sharpens their instincts and gives them a sense of ownership.
- Entrepreneurs never ignore their instincts—we revere them!
The employee who listens and follows their instincts is an asset. Intuitiveness is often the difference between the average employee and one who has the potential to be a rock star. When the latter comes to you with questions or wants to run an idea past you, before offering your opinion, ask them what their instincts are, what their gut says about the positives and the potential downside. The more you steer them towards their own intuition and show them that you trust it, too, the more they’ll learn to trust it themselves and be guided by it.
I also tell my staff to ask themselves these questions regularly, and while they work well in show business, they are equally if not more relevant for other industries:
- What do I want in the (type of industry) business, and how can I approach it more innovatively than anyone else?
- Is there a need at this company that’s been overlooked that I can fill or that I can fill differently?
- Is there a need in the market that’s been overlooked that our company can fill or fill differently than anyone else?
- What’s my niche, and how can I use it to grow within this company and help to grow the company, itself?
Now, let’s talk about assistants. I look for résumés that reflect an entrepreneurial spirit early on. For example, when I see a résumé in which someone did a summer internship in high school, started a teen blog, or did anything creative or different, it piques my interest. I automatically expect a good work ethic, but the kid who’s already starting to show the signs of a future entrepreneur, that’s the résumé that stands out. Having grown up with social media, today’s generation has an advantage. I want to take that young person with a natural command of social media and integrating the latest technology, teach her or him how to apply entrepreneurial thinking to those skills. What used to be a generation gap is now a bridge.
I also like to be transparent and honest with a potential assistant hire right from the start. Before anyone commits, we have a frank conversation about what they want out of this job and what I’ll need from them. We discuss our mutual responsibilities should we exceed one another’s expectations, and what they’ll be if we don’t and we agree to trial period, usually one year. I make sure they understand that if they work for me, together we will be vested in their future, not just their future with my company; there’s a big difference between the two.
Instead of limiting their job to only administrative duties, I offer active mentorship and the option to work on projects that let them practice and develop their skills. I also promise to help them in whatever area of entertainment they choose. At the end of the agreed-upon term, if it’s going well and they want to stay on, we build from there. If not, that’s okay too. For those last few months, the assistant helps me find and train a new assistant, and in return, I help him or her get the job they want. No one is put in the vulnerable position of having to cover his own butt at the expense of the other or the relationship. The assistant knows that even if they don’t remain with the company, they’ll have a valuable friend and ally in the business who’ll support their career. I know I won’t get left high and dry with just two weeks’ notice. Definitely, a win-win ending.
The assistants that you help launch into the world and who become successful entrepreneurs can be a source of business in the future. Though it can be disappointing if they don’t stay on with the company, on a human level, encouraging them to reach for the stars is like paying it forward. I recently contacted a former mentor who came out of retirement to work with me on a lucrative project that was fun and exciting for us both.
Lastly, keep an open mind.. It can be easy to become comfortable with the status quo, and bristle at employees who challenge it, especially, when it’s a “why fix something that isn’t broken,” situation. Just because something isn’t broken doesn’t mean it can’t be vastly improved. The employee with the courage to bring those opportunities to your attention, who sees the future and wants to grab it with both hands, that’s the employee who one day, you’ll look back and be grateful you encouraged.
Written by Marc Guss.
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