Employers want people who can adapt, reskill, and assume new roles. In fact, a new survey by Deloitte found that 72% of executives considered those abilities their top-ranked elements for navigating future disruptions. But, surprisingly, just 17% of those same execs think their workers are ready to do those things. Nearly two-thirds said they plan to reimagine work within the next three years.
There’s another universe of people who regularly adapt, reskill, and shift roles: entrepreneurs. “At this moment in time, we’re obviously experiencing more turbulence. There’s a lot more uncertainty. There’s a lot more risk. That’s what entrepreneurial people are constantly navigating,” says Amy Wilkinson, founder of innovation advisory company Ingenuity and author of The Creator’s Code: The Six Essential Skills of Extraordinary Entrepreneurs.
In her entrepreneurial leadership course at Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business, Wilkinson teaches her students about the mindset and skill set required for entrepreneurs to create and scale high-growth businesses. And many employees could get ahead in the workplace by adopting many of those skills, too. Here are some of the most important:
Find a gap
By definition, entrepreneurs are people who look for a need in the marketplace and fill it. To do so, they’re tuned in to gaps and opportunities to create solutions. That’s also a valuable workplace skill, Wilkinson says. “Even if you’re on your team and in your silo in your division, you still want to be able to spot opportunities that others don’t see,” she says.
To do so, stay curious. Ask questions. And truly listen to some of the challenges your colleagues and customers are facing. This curiosity and information-gathering are going to help you identify ways to create or suggest your own solutions. Contributing in this way helps the overall team and can make you a critical and creative resource.
Once successful entrepreneurs spot opportunities or areas where things aren’t working, they make adjustments quickly, says performance coach Jason Selk, author of Relentless Solution Focus: Train Your Mind to Conquer Stress, Pressure, and Underperformance. They understand the two-step approach to get to solutions:
- Recognize the problem. But don’t get stuck in “problem thinking,” where you’re mired in the negative aspects of the situation.
- Focus on the solution. When you’re seeking solutions, you’re thinking more creatively and can begin making adjustments and taking steps toward turning around the situation or seizing the opportunity.
Learn what you don’t know
When you’re responsible for running every aspect of your company and learning what you need to grow it, “you’ve got to learn what you don’t know–fast,” says business coach Dave Sinclair. One of the best places to start is knowing yourself, he says. Review assessment test results. Look deep to find out what your strengths, motivations, and weaknesses are. Then, look around you at the resources you have: learning and development programs, books, mentors, and other places to learn and grow your skill set.
Use those to strengthen the areas that are going to help you move forward in the workplace. Also, surround yourself with people who think differently than you and who can add to what you know, he says. “There’s so much out there,” he says. “Do the hard work to grow.”
Focus on the horizon
Successful entrepreneurs are generally forward-thinking, focused on the horizon instead of in the rearview mirror, Wilkinson says. You can spend all your time ruminating about the past or benchmarking against your peers. But to navigate a fast-changing business environment, you’ve got to be looking ahead, anticipating what’s next, she says.
Use this approach in your professional life. Had a setback? Trying to move on from a big fail? Work on letting it go and focus on the next thing you can do to move forward. What will your job be like three years from now? What skills will you need? How can you develop them? Those are the types of “daylight” questions you should be asking.
In short, help others when you can and build relationships. Successful companies go above and beyond for customers, and business owners build their companies by fostering strong relationships. Find opportunities to help others that don’t take an enormous amount of time or energy and then deliver. “You become known as a good colleague,” Wilkinson says. “It’s not even a tit for tat–have I helped you, you help me–it’s magnified or amplified by the fact that reputation is pretty visible,” she says. Those strong relationships can help you when you need it most.
When you’re in charge of your own business, the buck stops with you. You’re responsible for the business, the people who work there, and how it operates. When you’re a person who takes responsibility, even beyond what’s asked of you, you build trust, Sinclair says. That typically comes from people who live by their values, he adds.
“Before you adopt the growth mindset, you’ve got to tap into what’s really important to you in your life. And that’s where being the entrepreneur of your life comes in. Show up and know what your values are,” he says. “Tap into those things and help create them on a day-to-day basis.”