Entrepreneurs vs. Employees: You Can be Both!

Sometimes the concepts of entrepreneur and employee are described as two sides of a coin–that is, you can be one or the other, but not both. In other cases, they’re positioned as not so mutually exclusive. I tend to support the latter view, at least much of the time.

What does that mean to you? For one thing, you might find that even a bit of entrepreneurial spirit gives you an edge over your competition. It sets you apart from the “I just do my job” crowd. In terms of promotability, for example, it suggests that you’re potentially a valuable resource beyond your present role in the company. If you’re already a senior manager or executive, it can still indicate your readiness for bigger and better opportunities.

Think Like an Entrepreneur–Even if You’re Not One

I just read an item by Stan Silverman titled “Think like an entrepreneur, regardless of your career path” that recaps a speech by John Fry, president of Drexel University. In the speech, Fry says, “Entrepreneurship means the ability to champion new ideas, to take them out of the theoretical realm, and use them to make a real impact on the world. New discoveries must translate into new technologies that help us live better lives. This is a mindset we all should have as academics, as professionals, and as leaders. And you’ll need it whether you work for yourself or someone else, in business, or in public service….”

That might sound a little “high-falutin'” to some of you, but it describes a way of thinking that’s likely to take you farther–and maybe higher–in your career than viewing yourself as an employee, with a limited perspective on what you can and should be able to contribute.

How to Combine Entrepreneurial and Employee Attitudes

For some of you, entrepreneur and employee might actually be mutually exclusive. For instance, if you’re what would be considered a dyed-in-the-wool entrepreneur, some of the generally expected aspects of functioning as an employee might strike you as too confining–like wearing an invisible straight-jacket. On the other hand, if you crave the relative comfort of a defined structure that enables you to clearly envision what your days at work should look like, being expected to act like an entrepreneur in any way might start you looking for a place to hide.

Merriam-Webster defines an entrepreneur as “one who organizes, manages, and assumes the risks of a business or enterprise.” An employee, on the other hand, is defined as “one employed by another, usually for wages or salary and in a position below the executive level.” These seem like polar opposites, so how can you combine them?

It might help if you consider the concept of risk somewhat differently than many people do. If you think of it in terms of calculated risks, you might be able to see ways to make the entrepreneur-employee combination work. Merriam-Webster describes a calculated risk as “an undertaking or the actual or possible product of an undertaking whose chance of failure has been previously estimated.”

In other words, you look before you leap and don’t leap unless the odds seem reasonably favorable. I see that as one way to find a middle ground between being an entrepreneur and an employee.

standing on a high rock outcropping
Look before you leap

What about Executives & Senior Managers?

The references to employee above might seem to suggest that senior-level individuals fall outside of this situation, but you can have risk-taking and risk-averse individuals at all levels of an organization. That indicates that senior-level people can be entrepreneurial in some respects or have a more employee-oriented mindset. In and of itself, that’s neither good nor bad.

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