The Five Leadership Commitments of Intrapreneurs

This is a follow on about how to lead when you are stuck inside a corporate bureaucracy. I set out some principles for intrapreneurial leadership which you can find here. The thing is that working in an intrapreneurial way demands a lot of thought or you end up doing a lot of damage. I know, because some of the damage is down to me.

One of the strange things working down the list of ten principles is that some of them seem positive and some leave me with a sense of disease. They suggest behaviour that is sometimes not straightforward, maybe even secretive and potentially destructive to relationships. In the book of Judges it talks about a time when in the absence of meaningful authority ‘everyone did what was right in their own eyes’. That might have been a great survival tactic in a time of chaos and danger but was no way to run a kingdom. Working in an intrapreneurial way walks a line between appropriate speed and cunning and colluding with a dysfunctional corporate culture without challenging or seeking to change it.  It by-passes rather than engages.

If the first post in this series set out an intrapreneurial manifesto then this one talks about some of the commitments that intrapreneurs need to make in order to behave responsibly. The next post will suggest some ideas for managing intrapreneurs in a way that creates positive corporate culture.

I have come to believe that there are five basic commitments that intrapreneurs need to make if they are going to be anything other than a complete pain. Here they are:

  • Stay committed to common sense. There are some processes that should not be broken, some rules that cannot be ignored and some people who cannot be crossed. Common sense is working out which is which and deciding which battles are worth fighting. If in doubt ask your network.
  • Stay committed to your cause. And stay passionate.Working like this is hard and so you can lose heart. When you lose heart you become brittle and difficult. Winning the battle can become more important that achieving the goal. The point is the point- not the process
  • Stay committed to people. Almost everyone is trying to do a great job. It’s the sticky system that is the enemy, not the people in it. There is the potential for misunderstanding in this path but we should never take that lightly or seek conflict. We should also never isolate ourselves and demonise ‘them’, turning ‘them’ into the enemy. We should be non-defensive and open to challenge. Offer everyone a relationship of influence, develop the humility to change and adapt, but give no one a veto over our dreams, passions and calling.
  • Stay committed to the organisation. There is a line between influencing and developing the organisation and using it for your own ends. What you do will affect other parts of the organisation-so think carefully. If you are going to break eggs do so in order to make a fantastic cake. Don’t do it because you like breaking eggs. There is no integrity in putting down the organisation that pays your salary and gives you legitimacy. If it is that bad, then leave. The rule is that if you explained yourself to people they would find themselves appreciating your personal and corporate motives even if they disagreed with your actions.
  • Stay committed to healthy relationships. In my experience intrapreneurs are among the most fragile of people. They can present as thick skinned, uncaring and full of self-confidence but inside are nervous, unsure and desperate to be appreciated. They often don’t know what they are doing because they are trying things out, looking for the path. That’s part of the reason they tend not to write things down- it might all change tomorrow. But this insecurity can bubble over into aggression or aloofness or isolation or a gang mentality (me and my friends against the world). I know, I am an Intrapreneur. We need to develop great self awareness of our inner state and work out healthy ways of managing it.


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