Agile Mindset Sets Entrepreneurs Apart From C-Suite Execs
The agile mindset of entrepreneurs and their ability to learn and pivot quickly gives them a leadership edge over corporate executives. According to The Korn Ferry Institute, there are three main attributes associated with agile learning: tolerance of ambiguity, intellectual curiosity and emotional intelligence, each of which is a key predictor of leadership success. They’ve found that agile learners are better able to work through complex problems, drive innovation and grow a company’s bottom line. These skills are critical whether a company is creating new products and services or responding to disruption. And while entrepreneurs have these qualities in spades, executives often struggle to develop them or leverage their power in a corporate climate.
“Think Pac-Man (the popular video game series of the ‘80s), in which the player controls Pac-Man through a maze,” said Amy Millman, president of Springboard Enterprise, an accelerator for women-led businesses seeking equity financing. “When entrepreneurs hit a wall, they act like a skilled Pac-Man player. They figure out another way. Dead ends don’t happen.”
Michal Tsur, a Springboard alumni, exemplifies the agile learner and the kind of mindset that separates entrepreneurs from corporate executives, according to Millman. She entered the tech startup world without ever having written a line of code and with no background in entrepreneurship. She was unaware of or paid no attention to the gender divide in technology. The word “ambiguous” doesn’t even exist in her vocabulary. But what she did have was an understanding of what businesses need. For her, technology is a tool to execute ideas— not an end unto itself.
The first company she co-founded, Cyota, was acquired by RSA Security for $145 million in 2005. She is now president and co-founder of Kaltura, which acts as a “privatized” YouTube for universities, entertainment companies and major corporations such AT&T, Disney and ABC.
She exemplifies the openness to learning and curiosity, which are critical attributes for agile thinking. Tsur holds both a doctoral degree from NYU and a post-doctoral degree from Yale. She has taught courses in game theory and business planning at a number of Israeli universities, done research for a major Israeli think tank and clerked for the Supreme Court. Oh, yeah—and she’s also a triathlete and a mother of three.
You may never be a “Tsur,” but that doesn’t mean you should give up on increasing your agility. “Learning agility can absolutely be improved,” said Dana Landis, VP for Global Assessment and Analytics, The Korn Ferry Institute. However, don’t expect to go directly from the bottom of the scale to top. “Learn by doing,” said Landis. “Make sure that when you practice the situation is high stakes: high risk and high reward. That could mean moving to some place remote, away from friends and family and your support system, to pursue an opportunity.”
This determination to navigate the Pac-Man maze demands flexibility. When it comes to leadership, corporations could take a page from the entrepreneur’s playbook: Be agile. When you hit a wall, find another way.