To illustrate this, let’s return briefly to the myth of Steve Jobs. His entrepreneurial leadership cannot be understood through the lens of personality; instead, we need to understand it through the lens of system building. As Bajarin (2004) wrote:
At Macworld in early 2001, Apple chief executive, Steve Jobs, used his keynote address to introduce what has become a most important concept in the world of personal computers. He unveiled a diverse set of multimedia applications such as Itunes, Imovie, Idvd and Iphoto and told thousands of the Apple faithful that the Mac would become the digital server of their homes – their creative nerve centre.
People with digital tools such as cameras, MP3 players, digital movie cameras and PDAs would use the new software to manage their digital photos, music, movies and data. Later that year, Apple even launched its iPod MP3 player and later tied it to the Itunes online music store. This made Apple a leader in the innovative use of ‘digital lifestyle’ technology.
Jobs’ vision of a digital ecosystem that would bring together heterogeneous services, suppliers, and even industries into a seamless and valued customer experience was indeed inspiring, and not merely for Apple’s employees but for all of those organisations that saw the opportunity to co-create such value. And the real aspect of leadership, in this sense, involved the hard work of identifying the obstacles (e.g., digital rights management) which had to date kept these heterogeneous elements apart, and then working to identify and negotiate innovative solutions to overcome those obstacles.
Such ecosystems represent networks of influence. As entrepreneurial leaders establish these ecosystems and locate themselves at the heart of those systems, this allows those leaders to not only shape the creation of value but also keep consumers, suppliers, and partners locked into those ecosystems. Architecting these networks of influence and mobilizing the co-creation of value is no easy task, and it requires much more than a psychological predisposition to risk-taking or a compelling turn-of-phrase.
As an entrepreneur, I am certain that you frequently get asked the following question: “So, what are you building?” The tendency of course is to respond with your elevator pitch and a 30-second synopsis of your core product. However, allow me to conclude this article with a challenge to consider a different response. The next time somebody asks you what you are building, tell them instead that you are building systems. Tell them about the different actors, organisations, and services that you are bringing together to disrupt the status quo. Tell them about the obstacles that you have overcome in order to make those relationships work. And recognize that as you do so, you are exhibiting entrepreneurial leadership.