Employee development: How to encourage an entrepreneurial mindset

One of the most exciting things about small business owners is their attitude toward their work. Entrepreneurs are always thinking about ways to work smarter, wanting to serve their customers better, and taking the initiative to put those thoughts into action. In addition, you don’t hear small business owners say, “That’s not my job.” If it needs doing, then they simply get it done.

That intangible drive is often referred to as an entrepreneurial mindset. As leaders, there is a lot we can do to recognize and nurture that mindset to develop loyal, passionate, and innovative employees.

Characteristics of an entrepreneurial mindset

If you want to encourage an entrepreneurial attitude, it helps to know what characteristics to instill and support. You can often identify employees who already possess this frame of mind. Here are some things to look for:

  • Sense of accomplishment. An entrepreneurial employee feels a sense of pride and fulfillment from his or her work, whatever their job or title. A janitor who realizes that a clean workspace creates a positive work environment that contributes to better productivity is a valuable piece of the puzzle, indeed. People need to understand and enjoy their roles in the company’s overall success.

What you can do: Notice something your employees did or accomplished each week. When people feel “seen,” they feel appreciated and strive to impress again and again.

  • Sense of determination. Small business owners don’t just show up every day and check tasks off a to-do list. They think thoughtfully about goals and direction and how to get from Point A to Point B. They create their own to-do lists with a willingness to do whatever it takes to reach their goals. In other words, they work with intention and purpose, and reevaluate direction regularly.

What you can do: Give employees the opportunity to think critically about what’s next and what we should be doing to get there. Remain open to approaches that may be different than your own. Ask questions to help them identify potential issues and solutions. Act as a sounding board and resource for fleshing out the details.

  • Sense of possibility and optimism. Employees with an entrepreneurial spirit push themselves beyond your expectations. They set stretch goals for themselves because they believe in what is possible rather than focusing on what might hold them back.

What you can do: While you may have minimum goals in your head for each employee to realistically work toward, consider letting people set their own goals to see what they come up with. Check in regularly to see if there are any roadblocks you can help remove or minimize to help them maintain their momentum and enthusiasm.

  • Sense of collaboration. Rather than looking at networking and follow-up with potential customers as another task — or even a burden they don’t have time for — people with an entrepreneurial mindset take the initiative to build relationships and never miss an opportunity to touch base or follow through on a favor. This behavior often happens both externally with customers and internally with co-workers, creating an environment of teamwork and partnership.

What you can do: Create mentorship opportunities, matching up new and seasoned employees for mutual benefit. Support volunteerism, community involvement, and participation on nonprofit boards of directors. Recognize and point out referrals to other departments in your organization.

Most importantly, try to determine where each employee is on the continuum of developing this mindset and adjust your leadership to meet him or her where they are in the process.

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Avoid potential pitfalls

Like anything in life, there are two sides to every proverbial coin. Entrepreneurial-minded employees can be a handful to manage, as well as a joy. Often their singular focus and impressive drive also make them overcommitted to doing things their own way. Your goal is to empower people to make their own decisions and take their own initiative without taking an individual-over-team approach. Help them develop patience for the pace of change and improvement in a larger organization by giving them mentorship/leadership opportunities and asking them for input on a regular basis.

Not all employees will have an entrepreneurial spirit. That’s okay. There are pros and cons to every personality type. Your job as a leader is to learn to identify different types of workers and adjust your style to meet their needs for greatest development and mutual benefit for both the employee and the employer.

By recognizing and nurturing an entrepreneurial mindset, you can give this type of employee the freedom required to satisfy (and harness) their valuable gifts and retain a group of people who will likely treat your business like their own life’s work.

What you can do: Consider tapping into like-minded business professionals to partner with your organization on supporting the entrepreneurial spirit in yourself and your employees. Find business bankers, wealth management experts, accountants, lawyers, and other advisors/consultants who also see “what’s possible.”

Scott Ducke is a senior vice president and chief lending officer at State Bank of Cross Plains (SBCP). He sets direction for SBCP’s lending policies and guides the bank’s lenders through serving its business, commercial/industrial, and individual customers.

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