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Entrepreneurial spirit is vital for great leadership

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Entrepreneurial Leadership: Finding Your Calling, Making a Difference

Richard J. Goossen and R. Paul Stevens

Entrepreneurs possess a unique spirit of innovation that is vital to great leadership, yet they’re often misunderstood within the church. How can entrepreneurial leaders bridge this gap and embrace their God-given calling to make a difference in business, the church, and society? Richard Goossen and Paul Stevens tackle this issue in Entrepreneurial Leadership: Finding Your Calling, Making a Difference, published by InterVarsity Press.

The subtitle for the book combines two of the chapter titles; however, Entrepreneurial Leadership is not a how-to for discerning a career calling but rather a conceptual discussion of the idea of entrepreneurial leadership along with practical advice for how to be a faithful Christian entrepreneur and leader.

The authors’ purpose is to equip entrepreneurial leaders to fulfill their God-given potential.

“Our concept of entrepreneurial leadership is based on the potent combination of what constitutes a great leader and what the entrepreneurial spirit brings to that leadership,” they write. “Entrepreneurs must view themselves more deliberately as leaders and realize that they have great ability to influence others. Likewise, leaders benefit by expanding their influence through their capacity to pursue innovation.”

Goossen and Stevens are well-qualified to explore this topic: each offers extensive experience and complementary strengths in business and academics.

Goossen is a strategic advisor to entrepreneurs and director of entrepreneurial leadership with the Transforming Business initiative at the University of Cambridge. He has spent more than 25 years wrestling with “the challenge of applying Christian faith in an entrepreneurial context” as a business founder, lawyer, professor and author.

Stevens is professor emeritus of marketplace theology at Regent College, Vancouver. Also a theologian and pastor, he has written extensively on the topic of integrating faith and work in the marketplace.

In addition to their practical experience, the authors draw on solid research from interviews with some 250 entrepreneurs to investigate the intersection of Christian faith and entrepreneurship. These interviews (part of the Entrepreneurial Leadership Research Program spearheaded by Goossen) include case studies of accomplished Canadian Mennonite business entrepreneurs such as Art DeFehr, Charles Loewen, Ray Loewen, and others.

The opening chapters of the book provide a firm foundation on the essence of entrepreneurship and leadership, drawing on the works of prominent management thinkers such as Peter Drucker, Henry Mintzberg, and John C. Maxwell.

Goossen and Stevens then contrast Christian and humanist perspectives of entrepreneurship and describe how a biblical worldview infuses entrepreneurial activity with purpose. “We are like God in that we are made to work, to invent, to care for creation, and to develop the potential of the created order. God is the ultimate wellspring of all human entrepreneurial activity.” They contend that, “Entrepreneurial activity can be pursued as a holy undertaking, a coparticipation in an ongoing God-ordained process…of great value to the building of God’s kingdom.”

So if this is the case, why is there such a prevalent disconnect between business entrepreneurs and the church, their relationship “often characterized by alienation, disillusionment, and disappointment”?

Goossen and Stevens offer some keen insight into the reasons for this disconnect: a dualism in thinking that God only calls people to “sacred” spiritual work in ministry versus “secular” business work still pervades Christian circles; and many Christians are suspicious of marketplace vocations because they think they are the exclusive domain of “selfish ambition for wealth, power, or money,” which assumedly do not exist in church and non-profit settings.

The strength of the book lies in the later chapters as the authors frame the discussion around understanding one’s calling and living out the principles of entrepreneurial leadership through practical application.

Goossen and Stevens state that the key to unleashing the potential of entrepreneurial leaders lies in our understanding of what it means to be called by God. “We believe that the single biggest impediment to the effectiveness of marketplace impact among Christian entrepreneurs is a lack of understanding or a misunderstanding of the Christian concept of calling,” they write. “This creates a collective emaciation of the Christian business and entrepreneurial community.”

As a result, instead of utilizing their innovation and creativity, business entrepreneurs often disengage from the church, remain passive, or choose to engage with parachurch organizations instead. Their leadership potential within the church context lies untapped, and their sense of spiritual leadership in the marketplace remains undeveloped.

In response to this, Goossen and Stevens challenge Christian entrepreneurs and others to embrace their God-given calling. They offer seven helpful principles for practising effective entrepreneurial leadership:

  1. Know what you are called to,
  2. Make ethical decisions,
  3. Practise integrity,
  4. Engage in spiritual disciplines,
  5. Manage your ego,
  6. Seek wise counsel,
  7. Abide by the Golden Rule.

This book is suitable not only for business professionals and entrepreneurs, but also for pastors, professors, and students in business and theology, and others interested in exploring the integration of faith and the marketplace. Each chapter contains questions for reflection and discussion at the end, along with a mini-Bible study to facilitate more in-depth engagement with the topic for individuals or small groups.

The book is well-organized in presenting the main ideas, although at times there is an overabundance of numbered points and lists. Chapter 6 on risk and reward reads as though it were originally two separate chapters subsequently merged into one, with the topic of reward only introduced halfway through as though it is the focus of its own chapter. Some stories and examples are also referred to more than once, such as the account of the teacher in Ecclesiastes outlined in Chapter 5 and again in Chapter 6. However, these are minor critiques in an otherwise commendable work.

Overall, Goossen and Stevens bring clarity to an issue that is relevant for many business people, and offer sound principles for how entrepreneurial leaders can more effectively tap their potential and make an impact in the marketplace and the church.

—Jeff Huebner is associate professor at the Redekop School of Business, Canadian Mennonite University (CMU), Winnipeg. He teaches courses in international business, management, and entrepreneurship.

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