What is the life cycle of an entrepreneur? Ichak Adizes, PhD, described the Ten Stages of Corporate Life Cycles in his book The Power of Purpose. Having experienced two massive business failures in the companies that I founded or co-founded, I can testify that Dr. Adizes is certainly correct in those Ten Stages of a business’ development.
This blog post aims to adapt the words of Ichak Adizes, focusing on the life cycle of an entrepreneur instead of the business. My life as an entrepreneur—and the time spent with peer entrepreneurs, emerging entrepreneurs and academics in the entrepreneurial arena—make apparent these interesting Four Stages of an Entrepreneur’s Career.
The beginning cycle of a business is like a freeway, sometimes exceeding the speed limit and sometimes stop and go, but always the engine is churning looking for opportunities. The first person singular pronoun is a major construct of the vocabulary—“I,” “me,” “mine.” Nothing else seems to matter except the entrepreneur’s thoughts. The second person pronoun—“you”—is used as a counter to “I” or “me.” Psychological health and personal relationships suffer. The entrepreneur is all things, but primarily the Chief Operations Officer and Visionary.
Business growth in this stage has become manageable. Key employees have been hired to fill vital slots, ensuring sustainable growth. The use of the plural of the first person pronoun accelerates, transforming to “we,” “us,” and “ours.” This shift of vocabulary indicates the achievement of mutual respect and trust. Employees, clients, advisors, consultants and the entrepreneur form a bond based on mutual values, vision and mission. The fortunate entrepreneurs evolve into the Chief Executive Officer position at this stage.
Command and control in the entrepreneur diminishes during this stage. There emerges a valuation for human relationships. Loved ones now matter. If the entrepreneur can engage in a loving relationship in his or her personal life, the resulting positive impact will be brought to the workplace. The third step of leadership is love, or emotional engagement (after respect and trust). It is during this stage that employee engagement levels soar and self-actualization begins to be realized.
The acquisition of knowledge is critical during the first three steps. That acquired knowledge—coupled with emotional intelligence gained through personal and professional pains and gains—results in wisdom. The entrepreneur becomes a Chief Culture Officer at this stage, realizing that sustainable success is dependent on the organization’s culture and people. The entrepreneur begins the path of sharing wisdom through mentoring, speaking, writing and advisory board participation. Succession plans are made formal, and the inception of those plans begun.
There are many viewpoints as to the stages of an entrepreneur, just like there are many that focus on the life cycle of a business. Perhaps most are correct. It matters not how accurate the interpretation of those stages are. Rather, what matters is recognizing where you and your organization stand in a particular cycle. All too often we focus on the product and not the business model or leadership model. It is time for that to change.
For more information about the Ten Stages of Corporate Life Cycles, visit Dr. Ichak Adizes’ website here.