Career CentreThoughts, Feelings

Leading Through Intrapreneurship

Leadership is more complex than is used to be. A significant change is how it’s applied in today’s workplace. In his book Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action, Simon Sinek shares an important distinction between leaders and those who lead.

What’s in a Name?

Sinek describes leaders as managers, directors, and senior executives—people in positions of authority. Whereas people who lead are employees from all levels, who push the organization forward by transforming their bright ideas into projects of value, and inspire their colleagues to do the same. As the latter focuses on action rather than job position, what do we call people who lead? Simple—we call them intrapreneurs. Similar to entrepreneurs, intrapreneurs take ownership of their ideas, easily adapt to change, and drive innovation. Their work is underpinned by an entrepreneurial mindset that, willingly or not, is embraced by more organizations.  

As a student affairs professional and someone who is interested in the future of work, it’s important that I explore intrapreneurship and integrate it into my work for two reasons.

1. Good + Different

When John Austin reminds us to be “good and different, he is giving us the license to innovate, take risks, and develop impactful programs for Ryerson students. In every possible way, he is encouraging us to be intrapreneurs.

The Career Centre won two CACEE Excellence in Innovation awards for Student Engagement and Leadership last May. Though it was an honour to receive these awards in recognition of our work, we knew we had to remain good and different. And so, my colleagues spent the summer developing better versions of our award winning programs. Awards do not make an intrapreneur—what transpires after they win does.

2. Those Who Can, Do Teach

We’re fortunate to share Ryerson Student Affairs’ openness to collaboration and innovation with our students. We interact with students on a regular basis, and play a pivotal role in preparing them for what lies ahead. The world is moving quickly, and organizations need to hire employees who have the desire to keep up.

Companies like GE, Intel, Xerox, and 3M have implemented employee engagement programs that foster intrapreneurship. Some may argue that intrapreneurship can’t be taught, but I believe we can help students release the intrapreneurial traits within them. Career Boost, Ryerson’s experiential learning program, is the perfect place to start. Career Boost supervisors could keep these questions in mind when assigning students to a new task:

  1. Does this task give them an opportunity to problem-solve?
  2. Did I ask for their opinion or input?
  3. Will this task push their creativity?
  4. Will this task ignite their excitement?

Employers are attracted to students who can problem-solve, confidently share their ideas, think outside the box, and are engaged. If you are able to answer yes to at least two of the four questions, you are creating opportunities for students to practice their intrapreneurial skills, and ultimately making them more marketable to employers.

Why First, What Later

In his book, Sinek primarily writes about the importance of understanding your Why. Those who lead focus on the cause of action (why) first and then course of action (how) second. This way of leading will produce your results (what). But how does this relate to intrapreneurship?

In order for intrapreneurs to treat an organization as their own, they need to believe in its purpose, in its Why. If intrapreneurs don’t know why a system is needed, why a project is underway, and even why the organization exists, then how can they truly innovate? It’s difficult to think of new solutions if you don’t why you are solving the problem in the first place.

Knowing your Why is a lesson for all of us and the students we lead. Sometimes the Why is supported by data, and sometimes it’s connected to a gut feeling. Either way, you need to clarify your Why prior to innovating and implementing your ideas. If your Why isn’t clear to you and your colleagues, perhaps you’re creating work based on what you think is expected of your job position, rather than inspiring action. It’s time to find your inner intrapreneur and lead.