by Sean McLean

    The Risks And Rewards Of Entrepreneurial Leaders

    Forceful. Ruthless. Impatient. Controlling. Unreasonable.

    These adjectives are unlikely to be top-of-mind when most people are asked to describe the ideal leader. Yet any scan of the world’s most successful entrepreneurs reveals that many frequently demonstrate these and other undesirable leadership characteristics. Why then does the word entrepreneur have a positive connotation? Why are so many oil and gas organizations openly striving to maintain or return to their entrepreneurial roots?

    Read on to learn why many organizations now place “entrepreneurial” at the top of competency frameworks they use to hire and promote talent and how to avoid the potential pitfalls of this sudden shift.

    Agile. Innovative. Efficient. Inspired. Passionate. Tenacious. Courageous.

    These descriptors better capture what most business leaders envision when they hear the word “entrepreneurial.” In a time when oil and gas companies are under tremendous pressure to achieve breakthrough performance with constrained budgets and lower headcount, it is not surprising that “entrepreneurial” is frequently used to describe the ideal organizational culture. Hiring and promoting leaders who are decisive, act like owners, take personal accountability for results, foster entrepreneurial values in their teams and, ultimately, increase shareholder value are two of the most important tasks of any organization.

    Given the list of destructive tendencies even top-performing entrepreneurs can demonstrate, careful planning is required when shifting to an entrepreneurial mindset or the results can be disastrous for a company culture.

    During the halcyon days of the $100+ barrel and $10+ mmcf, many oil and gas organizations grew rapidly. With growth came more process and bureaucracy and, inevitably, less autonomy. Many entrepreneurial leaders sought more freedom and the strongest often found or created start-up opportunities where their hard-driving style was not only accommodated, but also valued and financially rewarded. Meanwhile, as a shortage of key talent forced large organizations to offer increasingly lavish total rewards packages (just to attract and retain even mediocre performers), they shifted even further from the entrepreneurial ideal.

    Today, market conditions have created a unique circumstance in which entrepreneurially minded talent is often willing, or forced, to join larger organizations at precisely the time when large organizations most need entrepreneurial thinking.

    1. This paradigm creates tremendous opportunity and risk. If becoming more entrepreneurial is a goal for your organization, use these strategies to ensure you are attracting, rewarding, and promoting the talent best suited to drive breakthrough performance.

    Create a list of measurable outcomes for each key role in your organization. To paraphrase from Alice in Wonderland, if you don’t know where you are going, any path will get you there … Start with the end in mind to answer the question: “How will we know in X months if we hired or promoted the absolute top person for this job?”

    2. Build an outcomes-based job description. Include a list of competencies and attributes needed to achieve the outcomes, based on a desired end state and not a list of daily tasks.
    “If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up the men to gather wood, divide the work and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea” (Antoine de Saint-Exupery, The Wisdom of the Sands).

    3. Identify the competencies that will actually lead to the outcomes. Avoid platitudes and descriptors not directly related to the outcomes. If achieving the outcomes requires multi-tasking, decisiveness, tolerance for ambiguity and agility, seek a candidate with an entrepreneurial mindset. If the role requires patience, methodical thinking, maintenance of the status quo and a detail orientation, seek a steady and conscientious leader who naturally operates this way.

    4. Build an integration plan around each promotion or new hire. Many organizations’ integration effectiveness varies inversely with the seniority of the position. The more senior the leader, the more they are expected to “self-integrate.” Shifting any part of the organization to a more entrepreneurial style requires planning, otherwise “organ rejection” will occur. Arm the leader and his or her team with the tools to prepare for and work through the inevitable friction that occurs during any change.

    Remember, entrepreneurially minded high performers will determine a road map; you just need to point them in the right direction. Whether it is higher netbacks, lower G&A, improved customer feedback, or increased market share, provide the goal post, choose the right leader, and help create the context within which they can achieve their mission.

    The oil and gas industry was built and remains fueled today by some of the most audacious and courageous entrepreneurs in history. More than most mature industries, oil and gas harbors the unique opportunity to foster the entrepreneurial spirit that built the industry and will persevere through any current or future challenges. Organizations that learn to identify, develop, and coach emerging entrepreneurs to become self-aware, sophisticated, and flexible leaders create value both for their shareholders and the entire oil and gas industry, all the while facilitating a culture of innovation that will sustain the industry far into the future.

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