How dare you call yourself an entrepreneur!

What is so interesting about that statement is the phrase “call yourself.”  

“Entrepreneur” is not conferred on you by an institution or piece of paper, it’s something you come to understand and appreciate about yourself, and act accordingly.

When you have a certain sense that you’re self-motivated, intentional about creative problem-solving, and eager to be a leader vs. a drone, you know you’re haunted by the entrepreneurial spirit. 

You may or may not own the company where you work, but you have an ownership mentality. If you do own the company, you know that those employees with an ownership mentality are your favorites. 

Sara Sutton Fell, CEO of FlexJobs, said in a Forbes interview: “To me, an entrepreneurial spirit is a way of approaching situations where you feel empowered, motivated, and capable of taking things into your own hands. Companies that nurture an entrepreneurial spirit within their organization encourage their employees to not only see problems, solutions and opportunities, but to come up with ideas to do something about them.” 

If you have ever felt frustrated that you “have to do everything yourself,” perhaps you are not encouraging an entrepreneurial spirit in those who work for you and with you. If you crave more partnership in handling challenges that arise (as they always do in running a business), maybe you need more entrepreneurial spirits floating around.

 “Entrepreneurial spirit helps companies grow and evolve rather than become stagnant and stale,” Fell said.

There are an infinite number of ways to make your own entrepreneurial spirit contagious, but also note that you may have people around you who just need to be acknowledged and encouraged. Let’s look at one way to do that: asking smart questions.

Questions stimulate the mind and offer people an opportunity to think, constructively. And we like that. How else can you explain the popularity of trivia contests and quiz shows (Jeopardy! is in its 37th season!)?

We are wired to answer questions, almost like a reflex. So, asking the right question can accomplish several things: It can be a stimulus, a soft opening to deeper thought, and a spark for innovation. For some fascinating real-world examples, check out a book I recently published for John McCarthy, PhD: The Innovator Next Door: 50 Stories of Creative Inspiration to Spark New In-the-Box Thinking. John teaches “creative problem-solving” all over the world and uses a “right question” approach.

Think of a challenge, problem, or bottleneck you currently have at work. What’s the right question to ask? And to whom should you pose that question? Perhaps to some or all of your employees.  You may be really surprised to find out what can happen when you tap into people’s creative problem-solving. 

When you read about the uber-successful Bill Gates and how he built Microsoft, you wonder what it would have been like to work for him in those early days. I learned that he expected long hours and high productivity, but that he had an empowering leadership style. He was known for bringing out creativity in team members. While he certainly had a few amazing ideas himself, he often asked employees for suggestions and ideas for improvement. Gates encouraged and empowered others to use creativity in situations where needed, understanding that with more creative minds comes more ways to solve problems.

In the popular TV series, MacGyver always came face-to-face with challenging situations, sticky problems with impossible odds of success. Why? So the star, MacGyver, could do his thing! Viewers sit on the edge of their seats in anticipation of his ultra-creative problem-solving.  

What if you have a “MacGyver” in your midst? When you take time to focus, to think before you speak, you can come up with the right way to frame a problem as a challenge, using a question. 

Try for one day to concentrate on asking questions. When phrasing your question, have a purpose in mind, and consider how it will land. Is it an opening? Engaging? Or off-putting…

By “having a purpose in mind” I mean to check your intention before asking. I get so irritated just bringing to mind examples of when people have asked me a question that was really not a question at all—it was a criticism, or sarcasm, or only designed to make the other person sound smart. “Why” questions are often that way. 

Examples of questions that are tainted with criticism: 

“Why do you have sticky notes all over your computer?” 

“How do you know that the customer won’t just copy your idea?” 

“Do you think you can actually get the report done on time this week?” 

Those are the kind of questions to ask if you want to put someone on the defensive, waste time making them offer an explanation you don’t care about, and shut down any possibility of their own creative, entrepreneurial spirit. 

A good and thought-provoking question comes from a place of neutral and intentional curiosity.

Importantly, listen attentively to the answers. Then ask follow-up questions.

Not only will this potentially uncover some out-of-the-box solutions you will relish, you will be fostering an entrepreneurial spirit by encouraging creative problem-solving.

One of the best ways to motivate people is to encourage and empower them to solve their own problems. 

For example, if someone comes to you with a complaint, turn it into a question, such as, “How do you see that getting turned around and resolved?” 

Or if someone comes to you with a (dumb) idea, don’t say, “That won’t work. It would take way too long.”  Instead, ask, “How much time do you think that would take?”  That way, you are pointing them in the direction of thinking it through. You’ve giving them your point of view in a compelling way by allowing them to come to the same conclusion for themselves. 

Don’t just toss out a question. Give your question respect, and the other person will, too. Show that you are expecting an answer by looking at the person, not talking, and waiting for their answer. 

Practice “intentional curiosity.” Asking purposeful questions is a terrific way to cultivate and strengthen entrepreneurial spirits around you—and in yourself! 

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