• Nina Lovelace

Five minutes with Karen Thomas Bland. Talking entrepreneurial leaders

Updated: Jul 31, 2019

Kandu launches a new entrepreneurial leader blog series this week, exploring what it means to be an ‘entrepreneurial leader’ and how companies and organisations large and small can better support people to become them.


This week we spoke to Karen Thomas Bland (@KarenThB), who helps organisations to create break-through strategies, transform their operating models and grow revenue and equity value. She has a portfolio career combining #nonexecutivedirector, chair, consulting and interim executive roles. Her clients include FTSE 100, large consulting firms, mid-cap businesses and organisations transitioning from start-up to scale-up, who are angel, VC and PE backed.


1. Which change project have you led and/ or new venture have you developed, that you most proud of - and why?


A couple of things stand out. First, building a new consulting and data analytics business to £500m turnover. I developed the operating model, hired leadership into key roles, developed value propositions and scaled in 180 geographic markets which was a huge challenge. Second - my passion is working with tech entrepreneurs to scale their businesses, which is hugely exciting and rewarding. I am proud of all of them for having the vision, passion and conviction to make their businesses a great success.


2. How do you identify an ‘entrepreneurial leader’?


When I think about an entrepreneur, I think about someone can anticipate market moves, create the big picture vision and can turn their vision into a viable business model. They are often identified as the people creating new markets - "disruptive innovators" - or shaping existing markets - “incremental innovators". Beyond that everyone can be #entrepreneurial in whatever role they do, which is often about finding more effective and efficient ways of doing things.


3. What do you think are the most important skills and/or attributes that make up a successful entrepreneurial leader?


For me someone who finds new ways to solve problems, can take an idea, however big or small and make it happen and has ‘pivotability', as most ideas go through an evolution. They are also focused, extremely resilient, take calculated risks and know who to bring around them. From my experience of working with entrepreneurial leaders the biggest derailers are not listening and/or not been able to filter the good advice from the bad, failing to bring the right people on board at each stage of the business and not continuously listening to and understanding the customer in a systematic way.


4. Which of these skills or attributes, speaking from your own experience, are developed through nurture or nature?


So much has been written about whether people are born entrepreneurs. My personal view is all the skills to be an entrepreneur can be learned or acquired. As an entrepreneur, although it can often feel like it, you don’t need to be great at everything but you do need to understand your strengths and surround yourself with people who bring complimentary, but different skill sets.


5. What top tips or ‘hacks’ do you have for anyone wanting to make small changes now to be more entrepreneurial?


If you want to be more entrepreneurial there a couple of hacks: Think about the biggest issues in society whether it be loneliness, inequality, intergenerational adversity, mental and physical health and question whether there is a solution that hasn’t been thought about before or look at a product, service or process that exists today and ask how could this be improved? I would also say look to push out of your comfort zone on a regular basis – read a book you wouldn’t normally read, see a play you wouldn’t normally see and spend time with people you wouldn’t normally see – ideas and inspiration often come through drawing inferences and parallels from a diverse range of stimulus as possible.


6. What top tips or ‘hacks’ do you have for anyone wanting to create entrepreneurial cultures for their teams?


When it comes to creating an entrepreneurial culture in your company, department or team there are a few steps you can take. First is defining what entrepreneurship means in the context of your situation. It might mean launching a new product, but it might also be about finding ways to operate more effectively or efficiently in your team e.g. improving a process.


A big part of it is also creating the environment where people can operate like entrepreneurs. One change technique I often use is the ‘behavioural nudge’. So when you have identified the behaviour you want to change, introduce it in different ways.

For example, in one company I advised they wanted to be come more innovative. We put ‘What if’ signs on all meeting room walls, on post it notes and on meeting agendas to encourage different thinking and changed the social cues in the environment e.g. changed the art work on the office walls.


7. How can organisations better support their potential entrepreneurial leaders, and why should they do that?


Organisations of all shapes and sizes need to be highly #innovative, nimble, and #agile - all qualities that are the hallmarks of entrepreneurs. Its important that organisations embed entrepreneurial behaviours and then recruit, identify, nurture and grow entrepreneurial talent. Often in corporate environments this is about giving people opportunities to break outside of their comfort zones for example, taking on assignments in new geographies or new functional areas and offering buddying/#mentoring with entrepreneurs running their own businesses. Making entrepreneurship part of an organisations DNA will ensure they always remain relevant and competitive in the markets they serve.


Find out more about Karen at https://karenthomasbland.com/. She is also part of the Kandu Mentor Pool. Join our Pool and we will seek opportunities for you to support entrepreneurial leaders.


Do you know of a fabulous entrepreneurial leader in your organisation, who has achieved a tangible difference to customers and/or colleagues? Then let us know at hello@wekandu.io.


Find out more about Kandu! Visit www.wekandu.io or email us at hello@wekandu.io for a demo. We can help your organisation to collect objective data to track the progress and return on investment of your leadership or change development programmes, track the impact of supporters (such as managers, mentors and peers) on leadership development, and reduce programme admin time as we provide developing leaders with automated guidance and access to support.