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What Is an Entrepreneurial Mindset and Why Is it Important for All Business Leaders?

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Some of the most successful companies were founded on disruption or intelligent risk-taking. Consider Discord, the messaging platform that exploded in popularity during the pandemic. Its founder, Jason Citron, was a struggling video game developer when he decided to build out one of his game's most novel aspects–its chat function. Six years later, that entrepreneurial decision, which may have seemed risky at the time, has more than paid off. In 2021, Discord was valued at $14.7 billion, and Citron grew the company's workforce to about 650 people.

Citron's success is a lesson not just for startup founders or professionals with their own businesses but for all leaders. Like Citron, business leaders need to be quick on their feet, innovative, and comfortable spurring disruption. Other successful companies, such as Robinhood and Stripe, were similarly founded by entrepreneurs who melded innovation with creativity and adaptability. These and similar organizations have enjoyed ongoing success thanks to leaders pushing the envelope. 

The traits that fuel entrepreneurship, such as adaptability, boldness, and creativity, can be learned. Nurturing an entrepreneurial mindset is essential for all business leaders because it lets them identify opportunities for growth where many others see only barriers. The best MBAs for entrepreneurship build mindset-expanding coursework into the traditional MBA curriculum, developing leaders comfortable with continuous innovation. 

The Online Master of Business Administration (MBA) program offered by Butler University's Lacy School of Business devotes an entire core course to the concept. In the Entrepreneurial Mindset class, online MBA candidates take a deep dive into the entrepreneurial process and learn how to apply it in evolving and established initiatives. 

What are the Seven Elements of an Entrepreneurial Mindset?

'Entrepreneurial mindset' is not an outlook but an approach allowing professionals to convert challenges into marketable solutions. Someone with an entrepreneurial mindset can tap into the entrepreneurship skills they learn in part-time and full-time MBA programs to make the most of challenging situations.

The Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE) was the first organization to create a dedicated Entrepreneurial Mindset Index (EMI), which the NFTE defines as "a tool to measure attitudes, behaviors, and beliefs associated with being an entrepreneur." According to the organization, none are inherent–though some may come more naturally to people–and all can and should be part of business education programs. These traits are: 

  • Adaptability. People with entrepreneurial mindsets respond fluidly to changes in their environments. In business settings, they learn new skills quickly and apply them in unexpected ways. 

  • Creativity. Creativity is at the heart of innovation and entrepreneurship. It drives the genesis of new businesses and ideas and promotes transformation. Creativity is also an essential element of problem-solving.

  • Critical thinking. Successful entrepreneurs consider problems from an overhead perspective, identifying features with broad applicability and re-thinking widely accepted–but limiting–preconceptions. 

  • Comfort with risk. "During times of uncertainty, when we most feel like running for safety… those who are willing to lean toward risk can reap the greatest rewards," writes Dr. Margie Warrell for Forbes. Great business leaders understand that not every idea will be a game-changer, but that doesn't stop them from trying new things.

  • Communication. Influential leaders not only have great ideas but also get others to buy in. Many professionals find that business school is a great place to develop communication skills because completing coursework requires working closely with peers and faculty members.

  • Future-orientation. Entrepreneurs are always thinking about what lies ahead. The best entrepreneurship programs teach participants skills that help them look ahead and stay nimble.

  • Self-motivation. In business management roles, it's up to individuals to follow through on their ideas. A sense of determination is vital to succeeding in both MBA degree programs and business ventures.

Why Leaders With an Entrepreneurial Mindset Flourish

The traits associated with entrepreneurial thinking support professional growth and organizational success in several ways. Leaders who adopt an entrepreneurial mindset tend to approach challenges differently. 

They Innovate More Often

Entrepreneurship and innovation go hand in hand–if leaders are not generating entirely new ideas, they should at least be improving on those that already exist. That's how new ventures become successful. But it's not just about generating ideas that attract venture capital. It's also about fueling continuous improvement. If not for bold thinkers, we wouldn't have some inventions, such as electricity, vaccines, and indoor plumbing, that make modern life safer and more enjoyable than it was centuries ago. Leaders took those ideas, implemented them, marketed them, and continued improving them. That combination of entrepreneurship and leadership also drives innovation in business management.

There is a difference between creativity and innovation, according to Forbes Coaches Council Coach Theodore Henderson. "Creativity plus work results in innovation," he writes. "Therefore, being innovative means you harness your creative ability." 

Innovation takes many forms in business, researchers from the Strathclyde University's Fraser of Allander Institute note, including "research and development (R&D), product and process development and elements of marketing and organizational change." 

Innovation is useful in designing forward-facing business plans, and the widespread adoption of new technology makes it an essential skill in some arenas. Researchers who studied Korean IT and business companies found that technological innovation positively impacted the business performance of companies of all sizes and helped them enhance sustainability efforts. That same study found that innovation at the process level–i.e., reconfiguring the way a company works from the inside–was most helpful for large companies. This finding emphasizes the need for business leaders who work in multinational corporations to embrace innovation when it comes to their workforces, systems, and infrastructures. 

They are Willing to Take Risks

Multiple studies have shown that risk-taking in the right conditions can positively impact an organization, but 'right conditions' is the operative phrase. Business leaders should be careful not to jump into decisions too quickly. They should think critically about market conditions to determine what kind and how much risk is appropriate. 

In the Forbes article linked above, Dr. Warrell suggests a 70/30 approach that involves using 70 percent of the information available to green-light an idea and then iterating on the fly to deal with the unknown. "This isn't about throwing caution to the wind and conflating brave risk taking with impulsive recklessness," writes Dr. Warrell. "It is about assessing options thoroughly, and then choosing a course of action that fully takes into account the often hidden and longer-term costs of not taking a risk." 

In a study published in the International Entrepreneurship and Management Journal, researchers Zhaoyang Guo and Wei Jiang found that different types of risk-taking have different impacts on businesses depending on market conditions. "Sensing risk-taking," or taking risks to identify or create new market opportunities, benefits firms when market growth is low. "Seizing risk-taking," or taking risks to develop and commercialize new products, is more beneficial when market growth is high. 

In other words, when fewer people buy a product, it's a good time to look for new markets. When more people buy existing products, it's an excellent time to capitalize on success by developing something new. A good leader–whether they own a small business or work for a large business venture–must thoughtfully analyze and rationalize market conditions to determine the appropriate level and kind of risk.

They Aren't Afraid to Fail

The great irony of most people's fear of failure is that it keeps them from doing anything, eliminating the possibility of success. Even in academic programs, where students can experiment thanks to a strong safety net and network of support, fear of failure can be limiting. Researchers who followed 1,865 college graduates in China found that "fear of failure hindered college students from showing entrepreneurial behavior." The paper suggests that b-schools and other educational institutions should play a role in helping students overcome that fear. 

The best business schools do that by thoroughly preparing future leaders for the challenges they will face after graduation. Business leaders with an entrepreneurial mindset understand that failure is a learning opportunity and don't overreact. Instead, they step back and examine where a venture went wrong. And because great leaders seldom react emotionally to failure, they don't fall back on finding fault with their employees as a default response. 

"Only leaders can create and reinforce a culture that counteracts the blame game and makes people feel comfortable with and responsible for surfacing and learning from failures," writes Amy C. Edmondson for Harvard Business Review. Edmonson notes that when employees think they will take the blame for organizational failures, they are less likely to point issues out and less likely to fix errors. 

When business leaders develop an entrepreneurial mindset in a program such as Butler University's Online MBA, they can encourage their teams to recognize failure instead of fearing it. That way, teams learn from leadership how to approach challenges from a problem-solving angle, turning every misstep into a fresh opportunity for growth and improvement. 

They Communicate Ideas Effectively

Effective communication bridges the gap between novel ideas and implementable business solutions. Business leaders and entrepreneurs never work alone–they rise to the top of their industries, create successful companies, and lead their organizations by learning to communicate with various stakeholders along their career paths. 

Top MBA programs for entrepreneurship do more than teach strategic management; they also nurture emerging leaders with hands-on guidance that helps develop essential soft skills such as communication. Butler's program offers personalized leadership coaching from International Coaching Federation-certified coaches. In the university's 38-credit-hour online MBA program, students work with coaches from the beginning to the end of the curriculum. 

Coaches and expert faculty members act as sounding boards, listening to students' challenges and providing guidance. As a result, entrepreneurship-focused MBA students learn to communicate their ideas clearly, accept constructive criticism, and work collaboratively on successful business strategies. Students who study part-time and continue working can use this guidance and feedback immediately in their current roles. 

Identifying the Best MBA for Entrepreneurship Skills

The entrepreneurial mindset is like any other skill: it can be developed through practice. The best MBA programs for entrepreneurship in the United States combine pedagogy with hands-on experience. In Butler's Online MBA program, expert faculty members draw from their own experiences as well as the most relevant business techniques to provide MBA candidates with a holistic framework for developing an entrepreneurial mindset. 

In addition to the Entrepreneurial Mindset course, an elective course called Entrepreneurial Finance focuses on how entrepreneurs manage the financial aspects of potential business ventures. MBA candidates at Butler also participate in The Gateway Experience, a team-building event at the start of the first semester, and The Capstone Experience, a semester-long project involving real-world client work near the end of the program. Both projects encourage different traits in the EMI, including future-oriented thinking, clear communication, and creativity. 

Ultimately, an entrepreneurial mindset is vital for business leaders because it contributes to personal and organizational success. By driving innovation in their field, leaders also set themselves apart from their peers and the competition. 

Learn more about the Butler University Lacy School of Business Online MBA–one of the best online MBA programs for entrepreneurship–or start your application today.