Solo-flying entrepreneurs are admired for being so confident and persuasive that their visions seem to manifest by sheer will. Because these “single founders” create the blueprint for their ventures, their teams balance solely on the entrepreneur’s unique genius.
While lone wolves traditionally have been considered most likely to succeed, cutting-edge research from London Business School suggests it is the entrepreneur who can connect and nurture a collaborative pack, whose business will thrive past launch.
“The ones that survived have a more balanced view,” says Xi Zou, Ph.D., an assistant professor of organizational behavior in London Business School’s MBA program. Rather than lone wolves, “these founders act more like facilitators creating teams that can help them succeed.”
Zou recently presented findings from a study she is conducting in collaboration with Li-Qun Wei of Hong Kong Baptist University and Margaret Ormiston, also an assistant professor of organizational behavior at London Business School.
The findings, delivered in June at the annual conference of the Academy of International Business, are the result of an ongoing study launched three years ago that followed 450 technology companies in science parks in representative cities of the four major economic regions in China: Shanghai, Beijing, Guangzhou and Chengdu, cities with varying geographic locations and economic development levels. Each of the companies was a private, entrepreneurial firm launched less than eight years ago and having 10 to 150 employees. After two years, the research team revisited each company; 152 were still operating.
Their findings indicate several striking takeaways:
- Companies founded by entrepreneurs who exhibit a high level of tertius iungen — the tendency to introduce disconnected individuals or facilitate coordination between connected people — are ultimately more successful.
- Entrepreneurs who have a strong need to belong put together more successful, sustainable teams.
- The most successful teams are comprised of members who have a strong need to belong.
- The findings held true regardless of the type of tech company (e.g., manufacturing, innovation, etc.).
In 70 percent of the observations, Zou says, the firms that thrive are those with leaders who have strong tertius iungen orientation. “We were really interested in entrepreneurs’ motivations.
“Yes, they need to be unique and confident, but some can be narcissistic. They need to be able to connect, in terms of both connecting with their network contacts and facilitating the connections between contacts in their networks. This is often considered the polar opposite of what was thought about entrepreneurs.”
According to Zou, the importance of building and maintaining relationships has been studied extensively in relation to management teams, but no one had studied this in relation to entrepreneur single founders.
“This finding has huge implications,” Zou says. When the results were presented at the annual conference of the Academy of International Business in India this past July, “it sounded new to them. But intuitively, we know it to be true.”
Sharing the wealth of data
Armed with solid, subjective data, Zou and her colleagues have begun to collect objective data from the companies in the study that are still operating. Because the government of China provides structure and administrative support for the firms in the business parks, return on investments and market shares of these firms can be identified. After analyzing the third-year data, the research team will further verify the robustness of the current finding and examine its broader implications.
Sharing the findings is important, Zou says, to help companies and their management teams have stronger chances for success.
This article first published in the November 2015 issue of Ignite magazine, an exclusive YPO member publication.