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3 Differences Between the Entrepreneur and Employee Mindsets

Jacqueline Walker

Discover some quick contrasts between the employee and the entrepreneur mindset.

Your attitudes, opinions, way of thinking – mindset – drives the approach you take in your professional life as much as it does your personal life.

Your professional approach not only influences the career you choose; but, it also directs your path to success. Being cognizant of your mindset and its impact on your professional performance can prevent delays in defining and achieving your success.

Typically, your established mindset is fixed and not easily adjusted or changed. Yet, your mindset is critical in determining the methodology and processes you use in decision making. And, one of the biggest decisions we make is choosing a career.

Therefore, acknowledging and understanding your personal stance or mindset is a key ingredient to achieving professional success. Your mindset will guide you to the field where you will be most comfortable and find the best fit for your skillset.

As such, evaluating your personal mindset against some general standards may be helpful in gauging whether you fit best in an employee role or need to take the reins as an entrepreneur to drive, achieve and maintain long-term success.

These three (3) quick contrasts between the employee mindset and the entrepreneur mindset provide some guidance you can use to identify the best fit for you.

Differences Between the Employee & the Entrepreneur Mindset

1. Mastermind vs. Pay for Performance

Innovation is a key element in the entrepreneur mindset. Peter Drucker summed up the entrepreneur mindset as it relates to innovation when he said, “This defines the entrepreneur and entrepreneurship­ the entrepreneur always searches for change, responds to it and exploits it as an opportunity.”

For entrepreneurs, their goal, desire and driving force centers on implementing a new idea or launching a new business. While they expect that success will drive great financial benefits, the financial rewards are just that – a benefit or bonus resulting from the bigger expected achievement of establishing a new enterprise.

Their focus in on being the mastermind of their business venture. The fact that they can bring some new organization or product into being and build it from the ground up is the primary motivation.

Those with the entrepreneur mindset construct their plans to drive business success based on their own personal thoughts and opinions. They rest assure in their belief that the business they are creating will be successful and from this success, they will glean the rewards.

Climbing the corporate ladder is a key element in the employee mindset. Those with the employee mindset target reaching higher career levels and of course higher salaries. Their focus is on earning a living/salary, elevating their status/level, and gaining recognition.

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For those whose approach embody this mindset, job promotion and increased salary level are important steps in their plan. Those who work from the employee mindset are focused on their piece of the big picture. Their mindset is on performing their assigned responsibilities versus defining the overall business charter and vision.

While they seek leadership (and certainly many are great leaders); it’a leadership under the tenets of an already defined structure, not a new visionary organization that they conceptualized on their own and bring to realization using their own personal standards, principles, and methods.

The following quote by N. R. Narayana Murthy presents a good synopsis of the thought path of those with the employee mindset:

“Respect, recognition and reward flow out of performance.” – N.R. Narayana

2. Owning the Ladder vs. Climbing the Ladder

As the visionary, entrepreneurs create and own the ladder of success for their organization. They determine how many rungs; how wide each rung is and what it takes to get from one rung to the next as one tries to climb to the top.

Entrepreneurs are typically confident enough with their vision and abilities that they are not intimidated by the skills of those they employ. They don’t fear that anyone on the team can easily replace them. Any fear or competitive concern is strictly tied to external business/company competition.

Those with the entrepreneur mindset welcome the input of the smartest and sharpest individuals available and rely on those people (without fear) to take the vision and transform it into reality. Entrepreneurs are confident enough to lean on others to implement their vision.

Steve Jobs said it well, “It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and then tell them what to do; we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.”

But, entrepreneurs never allow others to change their vision or chart the path. They simply rely on others to define the steps and tasks needed to travel the path which will, in the end, lead to the desired destination – taking that vision from something hoped for to something realized.

On the other hand, working from the employee mindset requires the understanding that internal/peer competition will always exist. It doesn’t have to be adversarial, it can be friendly competition where individuals push each other to excel – still, it exists.

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And, with limited positions for advancement, there are typically multiple employees vying for the next promotion when a position becomes available. As such, those with the employee mindset must consider how to best impress the higher-ups to get promoted over the others who have the same desire and are eyeing that same status and role.

With this mindset, you must be comfortable working side by side with someone one day and then finding yourself reporting to them the very next day. The competition that is resident when you work from an employee mindset can be sudden and treacherous when you are on the losing side. But, it can also be rewarding and uplifting when you are on the winning side.

You must take what is handed to you and deal with it with a positive mindset if you want to keep your position and have future opportunities in that organization to reach the heights you dream of. It is not an easy element to deal with as Evan Esar lays out clearly:

“If you can’t bear to have your face stepped on, don’t try to climb the ladder of success.” – Evan Esar

3. Full Accountability vs. Team Player Responsibility

The entrepreneur mindset is conditioned to accept accountability in all situations. They understand that the progress and success of their projects or business begins and ends with them.

Regardless of the root cause of the problem, they must drive the solution because in the end it is their enterprise and they must both get it going and keep it running by using the resources and talents that are available. Therefore, entrepreneurs understand that when things don’t work, they must quickly look at the ” mistakes” and find ways to use them for the good of the planned endeavor.

The entrepreneur is wholly accountable for ensuring the success of their enterprise. As such, those with the entrepreneur mindset are usually pre-conditioned to turning missteps into stepping stones. What may be termed a failure to others, becomes input data to re-define or streamline entrepreneurial plans.

“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” – Thomas A. Edison.

Those with the employee mindset work in positions where the scope of responsibility is clearly delineated and the individual is typically accountable for errors or failures that can be directly attributed to their performance; while managers and executives are accountable for the outcome of the overall project.

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While an employee is assigned individual performance goals which feed into corporate success; each employee is not singly responsible or accountable for the overall organization’s success or failure. Working from the employee mindset usually comes with the expectation that there’s a group or department with which you are connected.

And, that group or department has a whole is accountable for reaching the assigned goals based on the contributions of each team member. So, each team member is responsible for their input and managers/executives are accountable for ensuring that the individual goals as well as assigned areas of responsibility tie together to meet the expectations of the department or the organization.

With the employee mindset, individuals must be willing to integrate their skills with others to meet the overall goals to then have a shot of getting any individual recognition. Those with the employee mindset must understand that working together means participating by contributing quality work as well as being open to assist others to avoid or resolve issues and gain success.

“A team is a small number of people with complementary skills committed to a common purpose, performance goals and approach for which they hold themselves mutually accountable.” – Katzenberg and Smith

Your work life can last a lifetime.

I suspect that Steve Jobs was addressing both those with the entrepreneur and employee mindsets when he said:

“Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be fully satisfied is to do what you believe is great work and the only way to do great work is to love what you do.” – Steve Jobs

Yes, it is especially important that you place yourself in the type of career, structure, and environment that will be most fulfilling and allow you to thrive. So, identifying whether you can successfully operate as an employee (staff in someone else’s business) or you are best suited to creating, introducing or originating a new company is key to identifying that place where you best fit.

Both paths (entrepreneurship vs. employee) can yield satisfying results and benefits if you are operating in your comfort zone. Spend some time taking self-inventory and honestly assessing not just what career field you should pursue, but how to pursue it: as an employee under a pre-defined, existing structure or as an entrepreneur where you set the stage to do things your way.

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  1. Jackie Walker

    September 9, 2018 at 1:13 PM

    Great insight! I can see where the environment we deal with does call for a “mixing of mindsets” to keep innovation churning.

  2. Tara Gray

    September 8, 2018 at 9:00 AM

    Great post! Being innovative in this day and age is a must. We as leaders need to hire smart individuals that are encouraged to present their innovative ideas that will ultimately contribute to the growth and success of the company. It helps to foster an entrepreneurial mindset and makes employees feel valued.

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