I had the good fortune of speaking at the graduation ceremony at a reputed B-school in Bengaluru recently. The theme of the ceremony revolved around entrepreneurship. As I sat down to make some notes for the speech, I did some time travel to my own graduation ceremony at INSEAD few years ago. I had made up my mind about starting up KNOLSKAPE at that time. I felt ready, thanks to the awesome programme at INSEAD and the great circle of supportive batchmates and faculty members. It has been a fantastic ride with an amazingly passionate team that is doing all it takes to shape the future of learning. I promptly started sifting through all those defining moments that I experienced during the journey. After considerable pruning, I came up with six lessons that I wish I had learned during my MBA programme before I started my journey.
Leadership is sacrificeWhenever it comes to leadership, somehow we tend to focus so much on the traits of the person that it seems like leadership is all about the leader. It is not. Leadership is all about others. During an MBA programme, we learn to ask this question before we get into anything: "What's in it for me?". As one starts treading on the leadership path, this question slowly gives way to "What's in it for others?". After a while, a true leader lives and breathes the mission, setting aside personal considerations. Such leaders, in my experience, tend to inspire legions of followers.
Failure is Ok; Not trying is not
As humans, we are wired for tightly coupled cause and effect loops. But in the startup world, there's typically a large gap between actions and outcomes. Rovio had 51 duds before they launched Angry Birds. I am sure the team must have had thoughts of quitting after a few not-so-successful games. Their inspiring success story is a great lesson for entrepreneurs. Overnight success takes a long time. What helps entrepreneurs stay sane in the process is enlightened trial and error and oodles of perseverance to see things through.
An MBA programme is designed to make us feel confident as individuals and sometimes even make us feel invincible. Consequently, we start believing that we are supposed to know all the answers. Most of us promptly put on the facade of a "know it all". It took me some time to realise that true leaders do not know all the right answers and they are quite comfortable with it. They start with the humility of saying "I don't know" and then they come up with the right questions that lead them to the right answers. In this ever-changing business world, staying humble can do a whole lot of good for all of us, not just entrepreneurs.
Finding your true calling
This is a topic where a typical MBA programme does very little to help entrepreneurs. Without a driving force behind an idea, most entrepreneurs will end up giving up in the face of even the smallest obstacle that comes their way.
Every graduation speech I've heard so far has this advice for the graduating class: "Find your true calling". Don't get me wrong, this is a very crucial foundation block for success, but then most speakers don't talk about how does one actually go about doing it. Here is one approach that has worked for me. Keeping financial considerations aside (going beyond the ‘What's in it for me?’ question), volunteer for a cause that you are passionate about. When you do this, you will most likely get into a state of flow and start creating incredible impact without much effort. Simply put, allow your true calling to find you.
Finding your balance
B-schools wax eloquent when it comes to maximising 'Return on Invested Capital'. Some B-schools that focus on sustainable growth teach you the usefulness of a balanced score card for business. There is serious void, however, when it comes to creating a balanced score card for the self.
Very few of us think holistically about health, wealth, relationships and finances. I get a feeling that in search for the elusive unicorn, many people end up with bad health, broken families and sour relationships. Speaking specifically about health, I tend to think that entrepreneurship is an endurance sport. Without a strong physical and mental disposition, one is not really setup for success. Again, B-schools draw a blank when it comes to this crucial ingredient for success.
Developing a growth mindsetWhile you have no control over what happens to you, you have absolute control over how you react to situations. As an entrepreneur, you are likely to face some challenges that will push you out of your comfort zone. Approaching these situations with a growth mindset will enable you to expand your strengths and emerge stronger. When the going gets tough, the tough get going, as they say.
More than ever before, we are in dire need of entrepreneurs and leaders who are passionate, balanced, humble and operate with a healthy attitude towards serving others, growing and facing failures. I believe that all schools (not just B-schools) should focus on these lessons. I hope this will be useful to all those of you who are ready to take the plunge. Stay humble and keep learning!