Don’t Judge a Book
by Its Title

Many people mistake me for a great student simply because I have an impressive academic record. The truth is, by many standards, I’m an awful student. While I eventually read the books and articles assigned in my classes, I read few, if any, at the prescribed time. Studying didn’t interest me. Attendance didn’t rank much higher.

It’s easy to perceive people a certain way and categorize them quickly because of a title or a degree or something they’ve achieved. In fact, we’re wired to make these assumptions: our brains create pathways to help us process all the information it takes in regularly. We look for patterns and shortcuts to help us process more effectively.

Maybe this is part of why many people have trouble distinguishing the roles and responsibilities they should have simply because of the titles they’ve taken on or been assigned. Consider “entrepreneur” and “business owner.” It’s easy for these terms to be interchangeable. It’s also easy to think starting, leading, and running a business requires the same skills. These are all very different roles, and likely, best accomplished by very different personalities.

What’s the difference?

An entrepreneurial personality may look to build something better, solve problems differently, or, ultimately, disrupt the status quo. Most entrepreneurs flourish in adversity, crave the adrenaline rush of a gamble, welcome the unknown and uncertainty, the uncharted territory. They can generate new, sometimes revolutionary, ideas and enjoy the tumultuous process of bringing them to market. Starting new organizations, revitalizing mature ones, and capitalizing on opportunities in a unique way is a draw over stability.

Often, once things become operational, the day-to-day is too mundane. The entrepreneur wants to continue to evolve and innovate. They look for change and risk on a larger scale rather than making incremental changes to support an outdated system. Think of the impact of Apple launching the iTunes Store versus a railroad putting their schedules online and allowing you to purchase tickets electronically. While both projects may have substantial impact for the businesses and the customers, there was far less risk and originality publishing schedules online and allowing for online ticket purchases (particularly for the ones doing so as late as 2014.)

A large number of business owners would consider themselves risk averse. They don’t relish the uncertainty of a new venture. The pit in their stomachs generally exceeds the excitement of the unknown and the unlimited opportunity ahead of them. They go through the hassle of launching a business, but it’s a means to an end. Business growth is generally spurred by their financial needs — or organic growth in their customer base. However, reinventing themselves or innovating in their fields is not a priority or a desire.

We also tend to confuse leaders and managers. Both labels may refer to the person “in charge” — the one who controls activities, operations, administration, even processes. But differences exist. Managers often work within established systems and oversee operations to accomplish specific tasks and goals. Managers embrace routine, stability, and control. They tend to focus on achieving specific objectives and supervise the tasks necessary to do so.

Leaders tend to emerge from (and create) chaos. They thrive on creativity and change. Leaders tend to be visionary, inspiring, and dynamic. They motivate rooms, companies, even countries, creating a following, selling an idea — an unknown, a new reality, a better solution or future.

So what?

What’s the value of this discussion? Well, let’s be honest: “entrepreneur” and “leader” are sexier than “business owner” and “manager.” However, organizations need both kinds of roles to succeed.

One of my clients has an incredible vision. She can talk for hours about the concept of her company and what she hopes to bring to the world.

However, she shuts down as soon as someone asks her for something more concrete: her goals, objectives, how she’s going to accomplish her vision. She recognizes that she’s not the right person to structure and manage the operations and has brought in other resources to do so.

To make any business successful, you need to be honest with yourself. You may have started the business, but are you the one who should continue to run it? If you’re happier running it, are you the type to take it through tough times and lead the necessary changes to stay competitive? Or, are you done with what you’ve created, bored and ready to move on to the next project?

Make sure that you are the right person for the role you’ve decided to assign yourself. Forget about your title. What are you good at and what are you great at? What do you enjoy doing? Where do you excel? How do you add value?

All these roles, when done well, are just as glamorous, even if the terms are not. Relish who you are and identify complementary skills in others to make sure a business has all the talent it needs to succeed . . . and stay successful. You don’t need to be excellent at everything.