Find Your Volume Button: Moving from Corporate Leadership to the Entrepreneurial World

entrepreneurial leadership

Working as a Corporate Executive and being a business owner – or leader within a smaller, highly entrepreneurial company – require many of the same skills, but can also demand a very different approach to leadership.

As a member of The Committee of 200 (C200), the only women’s business organization comprised of both the most successful entrepreneurs and top Corporate Executives in the world, it’s easy to see these similarities and differences in the way we each approach our businesses.  I have the unique experience of having made the leap from Corporate America into the entrepreneurial space nearly 18 years ago.  Almost immediately, I learned that much less effort was needed to effect change in an entrepreneurial setting.  I also realized that as a result of being in this very different ecosystem, I needed to find my own “volume button” and dial down my intensity in order to thrive as a leader in this new world.

Driving forward with intensity makes it harder to stop and make course corrections.

Starting in 1979, I worked in large corporate financial services companies. As I moved up the chain of command, I quickly learned about the layers of bureaucratic and hierarchical procedures for project approvals, especially for major initiatives. Each step forward was arduous, lengthy, and required a huge amount of effort from its corporate champion. As a result of the environment, I needed to harness tremendous energy and intensity to make changes and promote new products.

For example, as head of the lending product management groups within a major retail bank, my team and I were trying to launch a new home-equity line product. For all new product launches, the bank had a large committee of 30 executives that met weekly to oversee and approve these projects. We prepared the requisite death-by-PowerPoint slide decks. I held meetings with individual committee member constituents before the meetings, presented slide presentations during the meeting, and held more conversations and post-mortems after each product committee meeting.

Also read: Make The Leap from Corporate to Start-Up

As you can see, this process required enormous amounts of time and effort.  In that particular case, it took me five or six weeks of preparation and conversation and the same number of committee meetings to satisfactorily answer all the questions – and follow-on questions – from each and every constituent. When I ultimately received approval after a month and a half of this energy-draining process, the home equity marketplace had moved significantly and the originally proposed product was no longer competitive. So at the last approval meeting, I suggested to the committee that we kill the product launch and return to the drawing board rather than squander our advertising dollars promoting a product that was no longer appropriate for the market.

The intense and lengthy approval process, however, did not favor my recommendation. The group felt that they had spent so much committee time over the previous weeks discussing this product that it deserved a launch. So, we spent tens of thousands of dollars over three weeks returning dismal results. After that length of time, I was finally able to pull the product and cancel the marketing campaign to save some of the advertising dollars.

Understanding your impact as a leader in a smaller ecosystem.

By contrast, after leaving Corporate America in 1999, my experience in entrepreneurial America has been very different.  As the CEO of a midsize real estate development and property management company, shifts and course changes were swift and easy – sometimes too easy, I discovered.

For example, I recall an inspectional tour of one of our commercial properties with the chief operating officer and head of facilities. I asked a few questions about the electric room door and the hallways. The next thing I knew, a technical crew was diverted from tenant improvements in another building to address these items I had pointed out.

I quickly learned that I needed to temper and modulate my questions and comments with a nod to their urgency, lest all strategic and important work be interrupted to address the items I asked about – or simply pointed to – during a meeting or an inspection. There were no power points, no massive committees, what I discussed could happen in an instant – even if that was not my intention to subvert other priorities.

Also read: Developing the Entrepreneurial Mindset

This was a big lesson me as a leader and for the organization. While I was used to pressing hard on the pedals to get things done in a Corporate setting, I could use a much lighter touch in the entrepreneurial environment and still accomplish great things.  Every leader should evaluate his or her environment, understand how much intensity is required to get things across and make adjustments accordingly.

I found my volume button, which restored peace and priorities to the workflow.

About the Author

Roberta Sydney runs a real estate development company, serves on boards and speaks regularly on panels related to board governance and succession management. In addition to her non-profit board work, she has been a member of The Committee of 200 (C200), an invitation-only group of the world's top female entrepreneurs and C-Suite executives who work to foster, celebrate and advance women's leadership in business, since 2010. Join the conversation at @committeeof200.