Skills for Start-Ups


Last week I was back in Doha and in the recording studio to record further material for the QF Radio Show: “Women Entrepreneurs Weekly”.  One of the programmes featured as our main guest Dr George White, Professor of Entrepreneurship at Carnegie Mellon University, Qatar.   During our discussion we touched on the increasing awareness of the need for a different skill-set for today’s successful entrepreneurs.  Different from that is, the fairly traditional view of the successful entrepreneur being the solo (and often Male) leader, forging ahead, leading the troops and bringing everyone else along behind him.

George discussed recent research coming out of Stanford, MIT and elsewhere,  which portrays many of the most successful CEO’s as humble, shy people, who share the following characteristics:

1. They surround themselves with insiders who understood their businesses.
2. An executive team, not an individual, decided on future objectives.
3. They propagate the general culture that everybody’s opinion matters and hierarchy doesn’t matter.
This management style allowed the social intelligence of the organisations to flower.
I could not help but be reminded of the work that The Coverdale Organisation has been doing for 50 years.  The organisation was founded by an intriguing man, Ralph Coverdale, who with his mentor and professor at Oxford University, developed an approach to individual and team development which really was ‘ahead of its time’.   There are some key themes underpinning the Coverdale approach (which is experiential, and non-hierarchical):
  • The importance of having and communicating a clear Purpose in every task or project
  • The importance of adopting A Systematic Approach (capitalisation is deliberate, Coverdale offers a model of such an approach).  This is a framework or agenda which takes you from ideas to action.
  • Observation – developing this skill is a significant step in being able to understand what is happening in any situation, at speed and at will.
  • Listening – moving from hearing the words to understanding the purpose and meaning of what is being said
  • An understanding of the individual, personal authority which each member of team holds and making the most of that collective intelligence
  • The importance of Review in order to improve

During my time as a Coverdale Consultant, I have observed how hard it can be for individuals and teams to understand each of these themes and develop from aware of their importance, to understanding,  and finally to having real skill in these areas.

Many large organisations understand the importance of developing these skills in their staff and teams, yet when we talk about the necessary skills of the start-up entrepreneur, we hear mostly about the ‘hard skills’, whilst these ‘softer’ skills are often ignored completely, or hidden within discussions of character or personality.  The reality is, these are skills, they are capable of being learned and developed, and are vitally important to the lone entrepreneur as well as the leader of a team or large organisation.

To any start-up entrepreneur, I would suggest that it would be well worth taking time out to explore ways of developing these skills in more depth.


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