Can Entrepreneurs Save the Big and the Besieged?

Risk-taking, agile workers are energized in chaotic situations; a new Korn Ferry report.

Disruptions are coming from everywhere these days: political upheavals, trade wars, technological innovations, and a slew of other challenges may make it seem like being a leader is an impossible mission. Leaders may initially think they need colleagues who can take orders well and put their nose to the proverbial grindstone to help the company succeed.

But as it turns out, the more disrupted an industry is, the more it needs workers who think like entrepreneurs, according to a new Korn Ferry report. In a volatile, uncertain, complex, or ambiguous situation, a company needs a workforce that is willing to go the extra mile to get things done, says James Bywater, director of product innovation at Korn Ferry.

Bywater co-wrote “Leadership in a volatile, uncertain world,” with James Lewis, senior director of research at the Korn Ferry Institute. As part of the report, Korn Ferry asked more than 12,000 upper-level managers to describe their current work environment. More than 60% saw themselves as going through a “revolution,” dealing with rapid changes in roles and responsibilities. Less than 20% said they were in stable work environments. 

It’s workers with an entrepreneurial mind-set who can thrive in those revolutionary environments, Bywater and Lewis say. They are more nimble and adaptable and more likely to improvise and bring more nuanced sets of solutions to problems. They place emphasis on inclusion and teamwork, continually acquire new skills, and learn from experience. “They possess high potential for taking on greater responsibilities and more complex roles over time,” Bywater says.

Those 19% of leaders in stable environments might not want as many entrepreneurs, however. Indeed, Korn Ferry research shows that leaders with an entrepreneurial mindset become disengaged when there’s less upheaval going on around them. Leaders in a stable sector would want to seek out more workers who appreciate structured organizations. Lewis says. Entrepreneurs, on the other hand, want to set and pursue their own vision, something they can’t necessarily do when an environment is stable.

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