“Cultivating entrepreneurship is the responsibility of senior management.” – Eric Ries, The Lean Startup

Entrepreneurial Leadership - Next-Stop-Justice

You’re sitting in your weekly staff meeting when a young staff member chimes in with an idea that is new, fresh, and (if executed well) could hugely increase the impact of one of your core programs. The idea resonates with other staff members, and the energy of the meeting has lifted from complacency to creativity. You go with it, and engage others in the brainstorming session. Then, the Executive Director, sitting across the table, calmly and eloquently explains that there’s not enough time or money to think about implementing something new right now. Excited staff is now deflated, and the idea sits in the parking lot for the rest of eternity.

Sound familiar? Stalled thinking is limiting, and doesn’t do justice to our staff or beneficiaries, but still, it’s commonplace in a lot of organizations.

If we believe that entrepreneurs are everywhere (which we should), and we believe that each voice in the ecosystem of our organization is important (which we do), then how can we find a way to unleash the entrepreneur in all of us and foster innovation?

Through shared entrepreneurial leadership.

According to lean thinking, senior managers play a very important role in cultivating innovation. And it makes perfect sense, given that most of the power to shape the organization’s structure and systems lays in their hands.

In 2006, the staff at Data Center, a research organization whose mission is to unlock the power of knowledge for social change, asked themselves some tough questions. They took a close look at the structure of their organization and how it lent (and didn’t lend) itself to achieving their organizational vision while staying true to its social justice values. They found that their leadership structure was not working.

“… that was an opportunity to shape a new leadership model,” said Miho Kim, Executive Director of Data Center, at the Compass Point’s 2010 Nonprofit Day.

They called their new model ‘Shared Leadership’, which shifted power from the founder, major donors, and gave it to the staff. As part of the shared leadership model, they even introduced pay equity. According to Kim in her Reflections on Shared Leadership, “…the space for growth of each and all persons’ leadership (however way they come) are recognized as assets to organizational strength.”

In this model, where all employees’ leadership is valued and staff have more power with which to implement their ideas, there can be more entrepreneurial leadership and more innovation. It takes a lot of courage for an E.D. to put that kind of trust in their staff, which shows, among other things, that senior management at Data Center takes their responsibilities to cultivate entrepreneurship seriously.

Your turn: Is entrepreneurial leadership and innovation supported in your organization? Please share below in the Comments section!

Feature Image Source: Vinoth Chandar/Creative Commons

Body Image Source:  www.datacenter.org

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