In Praise of Intrapreneurs: 10 Encouraging Tips for the True Champions of Transformation
Much has been said in praise of entrepreneurs—those intrepid few of us who weather the storms of adversity and uncertainty, who boldly accept the risks of exploring new frontiers, and whose goal is to offer goods and services without the backing of a large organization. As someone who has recently embarked on an entrepreneurial venture of my own, I can certainly attest to and appreciate the recognition that entrepreneurs receive as well-deserved. As admirable as it is to strike out on your own, however, this post is written in honor of those whose choice is no less noble or courageous , i.e. those who choose to stay in their corporate roles and navigate the often-treacherous waters of internal politics and other challenges, all so that they can champion culture transformation from the inside-out. We refer to these brave few, who accomplish what no external force or factor can ever achieve, as the “intrapreneurs.”
During my 31 year corporate career, I was fortunate enough to work in a few healthy work environments with true servant leaders, but unfortunately, I, along with many of my colleagues, often felt hindered by the bureaucracy of personal and functional agendas of people in positions of power overriding and undermining what was best for the organization at large. I made a commitment early in my career to role model the behavior that I wished other leaders would exhibit. I always relied on the energy and enthusiasm of those I served in the organization to keep me going, and I chose not to dwell on how tough it was to deal with the insecure leaders with a scarcity mentality that would often get in the way of progress. Because I had seen that very same trepidation cause bosses to gradually become more concerned about their own advancement or functional agenda than they were about of the greater good of the organization, I knew how important it was to avoid falling prey to those “hidden saboteurs” whenever possible. As a result, I managed to have a fulfilling career and make a difference without compromising my integrity.
On a few occasions, I declined opportunities that could have significantly propelled my career in the short-term and, at times, I was compelled to refuse to conform to practices that went against my values and convictions relative to how the people in an organization should be treated. In every one of those cases, I accepted my “punishment,” often in the form of slower pay raises or being passed over for promotions, but consistently found the long-term benefits of these decisions to be well worth the immediate consequences that had to run their course. Overall, I’m proud to say that I managed to stand my ground and remain focused on who I was and the contributions I was committed to making. At the same time, I can also say that it never really got any easier or less disappointing to accept the negative consequences of the territorial behavior and turf wars between my so-called “superiors."
One of the many benefits of having my own practice now is that I get to work with people and organizations who are interested in transforming their culture, not those who have to be dragged “kicking and screaming” the entire way. By the time a client enters into an agreement with me, they are eager to learn about and practice the ideas I bring to the table. As a result, I get to do the fun stuff, which is to engage in empowering conversations, and speak, teach, coach, and consult on leadership development and culture transformation. Even as I get to do the part of my job that I have enjoyed for years, I remain very much aware of and humbled by the fact that, the only reason I get to do so is because of those internal champions of transformation who invite me to the table to begin with.
Many of the clients that I work with in my practice already have a great culture, and so they utilize my services to go from great to extraordinary. In some cases, however, it is obvious that if it weren’t for a few internal champions standing up for what they know is right, the organization would settle for “killing the goose that lays the golden egg” rather than invest in their capabilities to indefinitely produce constantly improving results and fulfillment. So, while I have tremendous respect for the entrepreneurs, I must salute the intrapreneurs who are fighting the good fight on the inside to make the opportunity available for people to participate in meaningful transformative experiences. If every one of these intrapreneurs decided that they had had enough and were going to just leave and go into the fun/scary business of being an entrepreneur, there would be no one left on the inside to advocate for and lead a true transformation, and you can bet those organizations would suffer severely for the lack of that commitment to truly engage and energize their people and invest in their capabilities.
They are the heroes, usually in the back of the room, fighting to keep their composure when participants stand up at the end of a session to share what they have gotten out of the learning event and how it has impacted their lives, personally and professionally. I can think of at least a dozen very special people right at this moment who have had the courage and determination to be the catalysts of transformation, and to stand up to someone in a position of influence in their organizations and make the case to bring me in, because they knew the tremendous impact it would have on the organization and, even more importantly, on their people. They are the ones who deserve every bit of recognition for the results that are produced in the course of our engagements, even though I am invariably the one that ends up receiving an undue amount of that credit, simply because as an external resource I am a more salient feature in the eyes of the higher-ups. They ought to be recognized for not settling for going with the flow and accepting the status quo, but rather acting on their commitment and pushing the envelope in the face of uncertainty and within the constraints imposed by the organizational hierarchy they operate within.
If you are one of these intrapreneurs, I’d like to offer you the following suggestions in hopes that they will empower you as you champion the often-unpopular and seemingly unreasonable causes that nevertheless are a tremendous benefit to your organization and people:
- Take care of yourself – Burning the candle at both ends does not serve your mission. Your physical and mental well-being is vital to achieving your objectives. Take the time to sharpen the saw as Stephen R. Covey puts it.
- Remain 100% committed to the dream – If you are truly up to something transformative, you will have plenty of push back from others who are just fine with the way things are, and benefit from them staying that way. It is easy to get discouraged and give up. It’s even easier to pretend that you are still committed and resort to cynicism and a victim mentality. You are the only one who can keep that from happening. Remain the course. For more, check out my blog post on this topic.
- Let go of your attachments to the outcome – Have high expectations and be hopeful, but don’t be attached to the outcome. If you take some steps and the expected outcome is not achieved, refocus on your commitment, make course corrections, and take the next step you need to take to make it happen. Learn from setback but don't dwell on them.
- Be at peace with choosing your battles – Don’t feel like you must fight every battle. Choose the ones that you can win and strategize about the approach you will take on the others. Trying to prove that you are willing to be a martyr does not serve your cause.
- Ask yourself, “What is the worst thing that can happen?” – In those cases when you feel convicted to go up against someone in a position of power and proceed with potentially career limiting moves, imagine the worst thing that can happen. Prepare yourself for that outcome and free yourself from worrying about all other scenarios. In most cases, it won’t be half as bad as you imagine it.
- Actively seek and find sponsors who will help you advance your cause – Don’t fight all the battles by yourself. Cultivate relationships with potential sponsors and make powerful requests of them to actively advocate for you and your cause.
- Celebrate the small victories – Don’t wait until you get to the finish line before you celebrate. Set frequent milestones along the way and bask in the joy of progress, not perfection.
- Know yourself and know what you are not willing to compromise – Know where the line is that you are not willing to cross. Know the kind of work you are not willing to do and compromises you are not willing to make, personally and professionally. Stand firm and be true to yourself, because without integrity, your accomplishments will never be as fulfilling as they could be.
- Create walk-away power – Always be working on creating options that would make it feasible for you to leave if you choose to. This is good for you and your employer, because an employee who stays with a company only because he/she has to can never be as powerful as one who knows he/she can leave and be successful elsewhere and yet chooses to stay despite that.
- Create a community of kindred spirits – Create communities around yourself of people who are committed to you being and showing up as the extraordinary leader that you are. These are people who will let you vent when you need to, but then they encourage you and send you back out there to get on with what you need to do.
I want to say this to all you intrapreneurs out there, who stand up for your commitment to the organization in the face of the doubt and skepticism of non-believers, and those who invest their social and political capital to highlight the need for engaging in empowerment efforts and justify the expense and effort to do so, and those who take the risk of inviting a relatively unknown consultant to conduct sessions on their behalf: You are, and will always be, the silent partners and true unsung heroes of every transformation under the sun. Without you, the services we offer at the Ghannad Group would be worthless, because no one would ever get a chance to experience and practice them. Without you, we, along with every other group dedicated to transforming the personal or professional lives of people all over the world, would literally not exist, and neither would the experience of transformation itself.
Although it is the least we can do, on behalf of the Ghannad Group, I would like to thank you and encourage you to keep fighting the good fight, because it really is all worth it in the end
I'd like to extend a personal invitation to each and every one of you internal champions to consider attending or sending someone from your communities to attend our upcoming workshop retreat. We keep these workshops small (max. 14 participants) so we can have plenty of individual coaching conversations. It is an experience not to be missed if you are into creating more champions and coaches in your organization who not only believe in empowerment but are equipped with the mindset and methodologies to make it happen.
IF YOU'VE EVER WONDERED WHY SOMETIMES, IN SPITE OF YOUR KNOWLEDGE AND CAPABILITIES AND YOUR BEST INTENTIONS, YOU ARE JUST NOT AS EFFECTIVE IN CREATING MEANINGFUL CHANGE AND PRODUCING EXTRAORDINARY RESULTS...
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Have a great week! May you Boldly Declare, Courageously Pursue, and Abundantly Achieve the Extraordinary! I would love to hear about your victories and/or challenges. Please leave your comments below or send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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