Do You Think Like An Employee Or An Entrepreneur?

How you think about your business is just as important as how you act in your business. Here's why.
August 17, 2011

After reading Sober Entrepreneurship: Why Modern Entrepreneurs Won’t Succeed Under the Influence by The New York Times bestselling author of The Entrepreneur Equation, Carol Roth, I reflected on how people think—people who both work for and with corporations and small business.

She speaks to the idea that, "we need to ensure more successes, avoid the number of true failures and make sure that we have the right people pursuing the right opportunities at the right time with the right preparation."

Carol got me thinking about working entrepreneurs. I’ve met many entrepreneurs who work in corporations. I’ve also met self-described entrepreneurs who work at home, but are really employees working for more than one client business—not unlike employees hired to execute similar roles within the business, such as accountant, copywriter, designer or administrator.

The location of the work isn’t the defining difference. The difference between an employee and an entrepreneur is the way the person relates to the work, the business and the working business.

The way we think about our work and business is crucial. My personal success in business has hinged on understanding that I relate to business like an entrepreneur. I’ve been able to contribute my best work with employers and clients that valued my entrepreneurial view. I’ve learned to recognize that I’ll never quite fit with employers and clients that prefer to work with people who view business like employees. Identifying your personal business mindset is invaluable to forging business relationships that work long term.

Do you think like an employee or an entrepreneur?

Whether we choose to work for a business or to start our own, our ability to identify our business mindset as well as the mindset of the organizations who pay us can lead to successful business relationships or disaster. Organizations that value entrepreneurial thinking tend to undervalue folks who think like employees. Those that value employee thinking tend to find entrepreneurial thinkers disruptive, difficult to manage and counterproductive to the organizational goals.

Here are 10 ways to tell whether you think like an employee or an entrepreneur.

1. An employee thinks about the work as the business

 An employee is about a good day’s work delivered for a good day’s pay. Employees care about execution.

2. An entrepreneur knows the business supports the work

 An entrepreneur is about a good business functioning well. Entrepreneurs care about performance and process.

3. An employee supports a solid structure as foundational to the business

Employees understand their part and execute that part. The organizational chart defines how things work and who does what. Employee managers understand the boundaries of their job role and their place inside them.

4. An entrepreneur sees a fluid process as core to the business

Entrepreneurs see how their part fits within the whole and want to ensure that the parts come together well every time over time. The organizational chart is a reference at best. Entrepreneurial managers want to blur the boundaries of their roles to work more closely with others who impact their work.

5. An employee is a doer first

An employee knows the methods, techniques, tools, and tactics. Employees see the finished work as the goal.

6. An entrepreneur is a planner first

An entrepreneur is a negotiator, a visionary and a thinker. Entrepreneurs see the work and the tools as a means to the goal. An entrepreneur builds strategy and is constantly testing it.

7. An employee sees “business controls and necessities” as other people’s work

An employee is disinterested in and often frustrated by tasks and meetings that get in the way of the “real” work—the skills and specific talents they were hired to use.

8. An entrepreneur uses “business controls and necessities,” to track and manage the work

An entrepreneur wants to do more of what works and quickly lose what doesn’t. Those tasks outside his or her specific skills inform the entrepreneur how the “real” work should go. Without access to the information they provide, the entrepreneur is frustrated by feeling unconnected to the business. They don’t want a job.

9. An employee focuses on what is his or her responsibility

They want to know how to grow a client base, how to build a product line, how to establish an operational process, how to shore up the infrastructure.

10. An entrepreneur focuses on interconnected responsibilities

They want to know how the infrastructure has to grow with product offers at a rate that matches the customer base with an eye toward reasonable risk parameters.

Like structure and expression or form and function, every business really needs both kinds of thinking to be in best form to grow. An employee protects everything that has made the business great. An entrepreneur questions everything past and present to make sure it works.

Too much entrepreneurial thinking might just land you with a pile of ideas and a start that burns cash faster than it earns it. Too much employee thinking might keep your business sound but too risk averse.

Whether you work alone or in an enterprise, you probably think like one or the other. Did you find yourself in the group that you thought you would be? It’s important to recognize and understand the strengths of the other.