Can you imagine being stranded on a desert island with hundreds of boats sailing by and nobody seeming to notice you? Well, if you have ever been an entrepreneurial leader, you know what it’s like dealing with isolation. It is the loneliest part of the job.
It isn’t as if you are alone in the organization, it’s that you find yourself sailing alone, often against the tide. You are trying to do new things, you are charting a new course, and you are making waves. Dealing with isolation and resistance is one of the loneliest parts of the job.
Not everyone understands or accepts what you are doing. It’s as if you are sitting on the other side of the continent. You are the one charting a new course, laying a new foundation, experimenting, creating new methods and processes. You are creating a new world. Yet you know you must co-exist with the core business, so you balance the tradeoffs of what policies, procedures, systems, and measures fit and which don’t. You have no guide to show you the way. You are often on your own.
Part of the isolation comes from not having a resource who fully understands what you are experiencing. Unless someone has been an entrepreneurial leader, they can only imagine what it is like. Since you are often blazing a new path, you are the one who sees the situation most clearly, and it will often be difficult for others to see things the same way. You may be able to bounce ideas around with others, but the clarity with which you see it can only be shared by someone else who’s experienced it.
Another part of the isolation is the resentment and resistance you get from your peers and others in the organization. New initiatives are in the spotlight, with much attention and focus given to promoting the new and maintaining the old. There will always be a faction in the existing organization that is hoping you will fail. It is easier for them to sit on the sidelines and watch until they get a better handle on whether you will succeed or fail. It often comes down to a fear of change. If the project succeeds, then things will change and they will need to change.
The resistance you face can slow things down. Understanding why you are getting resistance can help you deal with it more effectively. People resist for a number of reasons including a loss of control, uncertainty, surprises, past resentment, perceived or real threats and fears. This resistance is often expressed in their words and actions. “Give me more details” or “this is impractical” or “I’m not surprised, we have tried this before.”
Keep in mind that the resistance is rational to the resistor but may not seem logical to you as the observer. Dealing with resistance when you encounter it may be easier than letting the situation go unresolved.
In many cases you are transitioning to a new organizational model that is uncertain. Many people will be reluctant to accept the new model until it has proven itself. There is a certain level of risk in embracing the new. This is especially true if the organization is experimenting with many new business opportunities. One entrepreneurial leader talked about the fact that their organization started so many new initiatives and finished so few that the organization viewed every new initiative as the “initiative of the quarter.” The rest of the organization was not willing to support or embrace any new ones until they were solidly entrenched in the organization.
Isolation and resistance is the toughest part of the job. It is discouraging and it makes life tougher for the leader and the team but it develops the skills and competencies that are needed to chart a new course.
At some point the island will become very attractive to others and the rest of the organization will be watching you on that island. They will be taking your lead. It’s all part of the job and it is all part of the learning.
How are you helping your entrepreneurial leaders deal with isolation?