[This is the first of two blog posts.]
The most influential Christians today—such as Mark Burnett, John C. Maxwell, Lord Robert Edmiston and Bobby Gruenewald—are often entrepreneurial leaders. The synergy of an entrepreneurial approach combined with an understanding of leadership can lead to an exponential impact in organizations, churches and society.
What, then, is entrepreneurial leadership? First, let’s look at entrepreneurship. There are various dimensions to understanding entrepreneurship fully. Peter Drucker, the father of modern management, talks about innovation as the sine qua non of entrepreneurship. Henry Mintzberg, one of the world’s leading management thinkers, highlights the creative process and how entrepreneurship is a blend of craft, art and science. Howard Stevenson offers the so-called Harvard definition: the pursuit of opportunity without regard to the resources controlled. Larry C. Farrell, one of the world’s leading entrepreneurship trainers, focuses on the importance of self-inspired behavior. Lastly, Robert A. Hisrich focuses on the importance of proper risk assessment, balancing investment, emotions and time pressure. All of these perspectives are components of entrepreneurship.
Secondly, we need a clear understanding of leadership. Like entrepreneurship, there are many perspectives on this topic. John Maxwell simply says that leadership is influence. A more complete definition is that leadership is a relationship of influence within which followership is gained and goals are met. There are biblical insights on leadership. In the Bible leadership involves casting a vision with examples such as Moses, Paul and Jesus. In addition, leaders take a “systemic” approach in which the leader is part of the system, such as the body of Christ. Leadership also involves exercising stewardship of the gifts and talents of others – good leaders give power away by empowering others. Like entrepreneurship, the notion of leadership has various important dimensions.
With this context of an understanding of both entrepreneurship and leadership, I want to highlight two key aspects of a Christian perspective on entrepreneurial leadership. First, God-inspired creativity is embedded in a Christian approach. God is the “Creator.” He is the ultimate source of creativity. God is a doer, imagining, designing and speaking into existence the earth. Entrepreneurs have God-inspired creativity. We don’t create something out of nothing. Instead, we are creative in the derivative sense of sharing with God the continuing stewardship of the world. We help bring creation to fulfillment. We are called to extend the sanctuary (the Garden) and to “fill the earth” not only with people but by humanizing the earth through creative work.
A second element of a Christian approach relates to risk taking. Without risk there will be no innovation! Man and woman are placed in the “Garden of Opportunity.” God commissioned them to have dominion, but did not specify how to do so. Let’s look at a parable about the Kingdom of God – the parable of the talents (Mt 25:14-30). A master entrusts three servants with talents—talents were a measure of money or gold—while the master goes away. Each servant gets what the master thinks he is capable of undertaking as a steward: 5, 2 and 1. The one with five talents has made 5 and the one with 2 talents has made 2 through opportune investment and taking a risk. The master commends them and invites them to celebrate his joy. The servant who had one talent and buried it in the ground is soundly condemned as a wicked servant and cast out. Why? He had a wrong view of stewardship as preservation rather than investment! He had the wrong view of the Kingdom of God—sit around and wait for its coming. He was risk-averse (of the master he said, “I knew you are a hard man.”). The bottom line is that it is a sin to squander what God has given us to use; we should be empowered to take risk.
I will provide four examples of Christian entrepreneurial leaders who have innovated, taken risk through new ventures, and who have had a significant impact within their spheres of influence. The first example of an effective entrepreneurial leader is Mark Burnett. He is the #1 TV producer is Hollywood. He has an amazing life journey, going from being a British paratrooper to a nanny in the US to one of the top success stories in Hollywood. His commercial success includes shows such as Survivor, Apprentice, Shark Tank and The Voice. He has not, however, been content with his professional and financial success. As he told me, “I want to make a difference.” He has used his creativity to envision new projects and he has taken financial and reputation risks to implement them. Burnett originated the idea of “The Bible” miniseries—not a very popular idea in Hollywood. Despite his stellar track record he encountered many difficulties in terms of the financing and launch of the miniseries. Later he then launched “The Son of God” movie with a wide theatrical release. Burnett has displayed a lot of creativity in his ventures and he has had a huge impact from a faith perspective. He told me he wants to be a “noisy Christian” and drive projects that bring Christianity to mass culture.