Executive Decision

Leadership styles through the ages.
Magazine Contributor
3 min read

This story appears in the June 1998 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

At what age do entrepreneurs make the best bosses? Is it, say, before they turn 35--or do improved leadership skills come later in life? Then again, perhaps age doesn't make much of a difference. Or does it?

Richard Hagberg thinks it does. As head of Foster City, California-based executive development firm Hagberg Consulting Group, Hagberg has studied some 550 CEOs (including entrepreneurs) for more than a decade. His conclusion? "The burden on young people of running [a business] is significant; leadership demands an incredible amount of skill and talent," Hagberg says. "And I think younger entrepreneurs justifiably feel a little overwhelmed by that."

Which isn't to suggest Hagberg's research overwhelmingly favors entrepreneurs over 35--but the passage of time does seem to strengthen leadership capabilities. "We find that [entrepreneurs] under 35 tend to be visionary evangelists," explains Hagberg. "They rely on their own charisma and willingness to take risks and make decisions fast. They're `ready, fire, aim.'?

In contrast, older entrepreneurs are often better at planning and team-building. "They've learned how to work with other people," Hagberg says. "They've learned how to build consensus and facilitate teamwork. They also tend to be more open-minded."

Interestingly, though, different stages of business development don't necessarily call for the same management skills--and this is where complex analysis becomes ever more so. "The under-35s are more effective in start-up years," Hagberg notes, "when selling people on an idea, acting quickly and [being willing] to take risks are important."

What other distinctions can be drawn between younger and older entrepreneurs? Hagberg credits the younger set with greater individual creativity; older leaders get higher marks for attention to detail. Entrepreneurs under 35 are also deemed less trusting of their employees' abilities to get the job done--at least, at a skill level commensurate with their own.

"When you're young, you're more brash," Hagberg concludes. "As you age, you often realize you can't accomplish things through sheer force of will."

They're The Tops

Asked to identify their role models, young business leaders throughout the world mention some well-known individuals. A sampling: Forbes' Steve Forbes, Intel's Andrew S. Grove (l.), Microsoft's Bill Gates, Virgin Group's Richard Branson, and Walt Disney's Michael Eisner.

source: The Insight Survey/Leadership Insights

What's It Like?

Researching small-business owners is one thing, but actually living the entrepreneurial life is something else entirely. We were curious to see how closely the leadership style analysis conducted by Foster City, California, Hagberg Consulting Group compared to real entrepreneurs.

Consider, for example, Jodi Levy. As founder of 4-year-old Healing Hands Inc., a New York City holistic wellness company, Levy admits having her share of difficulty with delegating--a common Hagberg-identified hurdle for young entrepreneurs. "That's something I'm working on," says Levy, 30. "That's my biggest weakness."

Thirty-four-year-old Rod Rougelot, who co-founded Recycling Resource in San Francisco when he was 28, has also battled delegation demons. "If I could deliver service to every one of [my customers] on my own, I would," says Rougelot. "But by the nature of our business, I have to delegate, and it's uncomfortable."

Not so uncomfortable for Rougelot--at least not anymore--is the decision-making process. "I make decisions much more quickly than I used to," observes Rougelot, whose recycling company now boasts 85 employees and 29 sites throughout Northern California.

Echoes Levy, "I tend to make things happen quickly." Incidentally, that also echoes Hagberg's entrepreneurial profile.

Contact Sources

Hagberg Consulting Group, (650) 377-0232, http://www.hcgnet.com

Healing Hands Inc., 969 Third Ave., 4th Fl., New York, NY 10022, (888) HEAL-999

Recycling Resource, 3001 19th St., San Francisco, CA 94110, http://www.recyclingresource.com


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