The Intrapreneur: Characteristics, Behaviors, Mindsets And Skills

Expert: Gifford Pinchot IIICurator: Simone Ahuja

Civil rights organizer, blacksmith, farmer, coined the word intrapreneur and wrote the book, Fortune 100 consultant, Silicon Valley CEO, Angel Capitalist, Sustainable B-School Founder.

01 // What characteristics have you observed in intrapreneurs?

02 // Which of these are most important?

03 // What are the key differences between intrapreneurs and entrepreneurs?

// Summary

Intrapreneurs are a unique breed of rebels with a cause, sharing a deep purpose and a set of qualities that propel them forward in spite of the barriers of the organizational immune system.

Gifford Pinchot coined the term “intrapreneurship” in 1978. He spoke with Simone Ahuja about his extensive experience with the curious, flexible intrapreneur mindset, unpacking the ways intrapreneurs drive innovation with their passion for putting ideas into action.

Spark an intrapreneur identity shift

Intrapreneurs have often been told by parents, schools and employers that the characteristics that make them an intrapreneur are the very things that are wrong with them. As a result, they try to suppress those qualities, dampening their intrapreneurial spirit.

When companies provide intrapreneurial training, they expose people to stories that get at how successful intrapreneurs think and act. This sparks self-identification, bringing out the ‘inner intrapreneur’ in far more people than you might expect.

Select class A intrapreneurs

Gifford identified two reasons why managers need to be able to identify the characteristics of real intrapreneurs:
1. To differentiate the real intrapreneurs from promoters who just talk a good game.
2. To refocus the company’s innovation strategy on selecting the right intrapreneurs instead of selecting for ideas. Eighty percent of the variation in success is due to the right people , not the quality of ideas.

Build relationships

The key to making intrapreneurship work is relationships, not process.
No system can move intrapreneurship forward without a close trusting relationship between the intrapreneurs and the sponsors who trust and support them. Sponsors protect the intrapreneurs, find the resources they need, and coach them so they don’t stir up the organization’s immune system.

The greatest reward you can give an intrapreneur is the freedom and resources to implement their ideas.

Support from within

Intrapreneurship has gone on for years in large corporations – though often with no official recognition – it allows companies to innovate and survive. If it weren’t for past intrapreneurs, the innovation currently keeping every large organization alive wouldn’t have happened.

To foster more innovation, leadership must support intrapreneurs. For example, leaders can create formal systems that give intrapreneurs more freedom, or they can support and reward the managers who are effective sponsors of intrapreneurs. Great sponsors are more scarce than intrapreneurs, but training can help increase numbers.

Focus on implementation

Intrapreneurship needs to be more about doing than about coming up with ideas, said Gifford. Too many intrapreneurship programs focus on idea selection and business planning. These are glorified suggestion programs, not intrapreneurship. Real intrapreneurship helps intrapreneurs get through the challenges of turning their ideas into profitable realities

“Intrapreneurs are the dreamers who do. They’re not just seeing the future, they’re taking the practical steps necessary to make that future come into being.”

Key characteristics of intrapreneurs

Gifford pinpoints seven qualities of intrapreneurs:

  • Curiosity
  • Action
  • Meaningful purpose
  • Dedication in the face of resistance
  • Courage and persistence
  • Whole-systems thinking
  • Collaboration

He also singles out more complex characteristics:

Intrinsically motivated: Intrapreneurs do the work with honesty and integrity because they have a passion and a purpose to fulfil.

A “both” characteristic: They are both dreamers and doers, a balance of intuitive and analytic, they take moderate risks while simultaneously finding ways to reduce risk.

A self-appointed general manager of the idea: They take responsibility for every aspect of implementing an idea, even if they delegate.