According to the Association of Executive Search and Leadership Consultants (AESC), magazine Talent Executive, “Clients are looking for innovative leaders who can both imagine and drive new ways of doing business.”

There is a high degree of anxiety among senior executives about their ability to keep up with a business climate of increasing uncertainty and rapid change.

These executives are keenly aware of the disruption caused by the shift to a digital economy, increasing demands from customers, remote work, the need for new business models, and supply chain issues.

These factors combined with the changing demographics and shifting talent priorities is putting pressure on organizations to identify and develop their next generation of leaders. Many of these executives recognize that leaders are the new competitive advantage. But do these executives understand what it takes to lead in the new business economy.

They themselves admit that they don’t understand the new digital environment, are far removed from customers, increasing talent demands and new ways of operating. Despite being more traditional these executives do understand what is required to fill this role.

Among the top five attributes cited are leading change, being entrepreneurial, emotional intelligence, critical thinking and being innovative. Not surprisingly these attributes address the top factors that these executives are worried about the most, business continuity, revenue growth and succession planning.

There couldn’t be a bigger neon sign than to say it is time for Intrapreneurs to step-up to lead. Intrapreneurs can no longer sit back and wait for an opportunity to present itself. They must rise to the occasion. It is not about being given the lead but taking the lead.

According to AESC. “Flexibility, agility, adaptability – all qualities that indicate an executive can lead, even thrive amidst uncertainty and change has moved from the nice-to-have column to essential.”

Although many executives can describe what they are looking for in the next generation of leaders, they are not always as clear on what they want them to do. Dealing with uncertainty, complexity and a rapidly changing business environment is key but directing these individuals toward strategic objectives that contribute to the longer-term viability of the company is just as important.

Still many executives are unwilling or unable to venture outside their own comfort zone. Financial uncertainty and increasing complexity make most executives risk adverse. They may set goals that they know are achievable. Direct resources toward initiatives they feel are more likely to succeed. Fund initiatives that have a short-term payback. It is for these reasons that intrapreneurs must step-up to the challenge and not only identify potential opportunities but develop a roadmap for moving forward toward those objectives.

The challenge for Intrapreneurs is knowing how far they can push the boundaries of the organization. Learning where the organization is flexible and where it is not. Determining the level of risk that will be acceptable. Leveraging resources that they don’t own. Making decisions that they don’t have the authority to make. Stepping on toes and breaking rules. Challenging long held beliefs. Pushing others outside their comfort zone. Aligning themselves with customers first, then the organization. Taking responsibility and accountability when things go wrong. Being willing to risk it all for the company despite good intentions. And so on….

These are things that Intrapreneurs must consider when they step-up to lead. Management won’t always be happy or condone what you’re doing but they will admire your courage, commitment, and persistence in trying. It is through your example that management will learn what it takes to be an intrapreneur, to be innovative and drive change. They don’t always know what they don’t know until they see it, experience it or deal with it in real time. Even then, it may only be in hindsight that they see the situation can be seen more clearly.

Intrapreneurs must demonstrate through their actions that they are ready to lead. Not in what they say but in what they do. Being an intrapreneur is more than a mindset, it is a set of behaviors and actions.

Ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Do you openly question and challenge authority?
  2. Do you tolerate ambiguity and uncertainty or embrace it?
  3. Do you trust your ability to make judgements even if they contradict others?
  4. Do you rely on what you know or are you eager to explore the unknown?
  5. Do you try to simplify things too quickly or linger in complexity?
  6. Do you let organizational barriers and obstacles stop you from moving forward?
  7. Do you evaluate decisions through the lens of past experience?
  8. Do you wait until you have all the data before making a decision?
  9. Do you manage risk through analysis or through action?
  10. Do you try to minimize failure or maximize results?

These are only a few of the questions that you need to ask yourself before you step-up and take the lead. There is no right or wrong answer. These questions help you understand your intrapreneurial orientation. Are you more of a traditional or intrapreneurial leader when it comes to how you approach work? The true intrapreneurial leader is a little of both.

As an intrapreneurial leader you must be able to manage the core business at the same time that you are creating a new one.  That means consciously living in both these worlds simultaneously. Managing the past and leading into the future.

It is time for you to step-up and lead. Let the experience take you where it may because it is the only way to develop, refine and perfect your capability as an Intrapreneurial leader. If you don’t step-up now somebody else will. The lack of intrapreneurial leadership at the top of most organizations is putting the longer-term survival of those organizations in jeopardy.

Keep in mind that there can be consequences to your actions. Even if you received encouragement from management in the beginning or along the way. The expectation is that things will work out for best. In reality, they may not.  You must be prepared to deal with the consequences. It’s up to you.

In the end, no matter what the outcome, you will have gained valuable experience that you can build on or take with you into your next intrapreneurial pursuit.

Originally published 2017. Updated 2022.


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