Some people are hardwired with an entrepreneurial spirit, while others cultivate it over time. We all work diligently to nurture the skills and passion necessary to shoulder the risks of reimagining existing processes or bringing some brand-new idea to life.
Leaders of startups and angel investors ask me all the time how an entrepreneur at heart -- someone with a passion for taking an idea and transforming it into a thriving business -- can find satisfaction once his or her business matures. My answer is that the entrepreneurial spirit doesn’t die, and great entrepreneurs don’t have to sell and start over once their businesses strike it big. Great entrepreneurs with thriving businesses never lose the desire to bring new ideas to life. Instead, they transform themselves into intrapreneurs.
Intrapreneurs have the best of both worlds. They have the comfort of leveraging the resources of a large organization and the freedom to pursue their entrepreneurial passions -- even if those passions are outside the organization’s main purview. Even with the support of a business behind them, however, it takes a great deal of hard work and practice to become an accomplished intrapreneur.
Here are five unique skills that such intrapreneurs must hone to be successful:
1. Persuasion. For intrapreneurs, the first step is securing buy-in from your organization through a persuasive pitch -- very similar to how a startup gets investors. Now, however, you must secure something even more difficult than financial support. You must persuade a large organization with a large employee community to trust that your new and often off-the-wall ideas will benefit everyone.
Some people are impassioned speakers, while others rely on researching and presenting data to make their case. Whatever your style, if you can’t competently argue the reasons why your company should give you the leeway to pursue your project, you’ll quickly find the “intra” part of intrapreneur beyond your reach.
2. Creativity. Intrapreneurship is, at its core, an almost purely creative endeavor. The ideas you pursue, the solutions you craft, the challenges you face -- they’re almost always brand-new, forcing you to come up with innovative ways to tackle them all. Unlocking creativity and finding that spark of ingenuity is how successful intrapreneurs separate themselves from the pack.
3. Balance. A key component of intrapreneurship is the ability to balance multiple, often completely separate skill sets and responsibilities. As the leader of a large company, responsible for things like managing the global supply chain management and investor relations, you can't let your primary responsibilities suffer or you’ll soon lose the support you worked so hard to secure.
4. Listening. One of the biggest benefits of innovating within a larger organization is that you can leverage the expertise and experience of those around you. As a manager of a large company, you have to master the skill of listening. Listen to learn but alsowith the intent of possibly being influenced: You have to know the road you want to travel, but the knowledge of those around you can help you correct your course along the way.
5. How to fail. Intrapreneurship is not for the faint of heart and knowing how to fail is absolutely paramount to success. As was true back in your company's startup days, not every idea you have now is going to catch fire, and your projects will face setbacks. If you are tempted to lose heart and turn away upon encountering the first hurdle, intrapreneurship isn’t for you, especially now that the fate of a large organization with a sizable workforce rests on your shoulders.
Crash through the hurdles head-on. Stumble and fall. Then dust yourself off, learn from your mistakes and apply that hard-earned knowledge to your next project. That innovation cycle is the cornerstone of the intrapreneurial experience.