Samantha Paxson shares stories about unleashing innovative leaders within larger organizations.

When people think of creative, innovative thinkers, they often envision and celebrate entrepreneurs.

Yet those who work for an existing company have many of the same abilities as those startup “rock stars” the business community seeks to emulate. Rather than starting their own small business to meet a market need, internal talent can tap into the power of intrapreneurship to creatively solve problems and compete in a highly digital and increasingly automated business world.

Like entrepreneurs who embrace innovative challenges as they develop and manage their business venture, intrapreneurs are similarly both passionate and risk-tolerant, leveraging qualities like empathy, creativity, critical thinking and collaboration to transform their organizations.

While their approaches mirror one another, the difference is that intrapreneurs focus on evolving their organizations from the inside out. They start with a specific challenge within their area of expertise and initiate a chain reaction of change across functions to create opportunity.

Like entrepreneurs, intrapreneurs invest their hearts and souls into a company—they are passionate and see themselves as part of the fabric of the organization itself rather than as outsiders who collect a paycheck from it.  

There has never been a more important time for teams who drive change. Seamless user experiences, digitization and customer demand for speed are impacting businesses in every sector and putting many traditional organizations at risk for disruption. Companies are finding they desperately need business analysts and technology consultants to help them navigate these market shifts. What they might not realize is that the internal analysts they’re seeking are just down the hall, generating ideas and thinking of ways to execute!

Intrapreneurs understand their own organizations and have the user knowledge and insider relationships to bring people along. They can quickly uncover agile ways to add value both for their own functional areas and for other leaders across the aisle, elevating how business is delivered. They’re unafraid of experimenting and see failure along the way (aka iterative innovation) as a necessary steppingstone to success.

They are the “rock stars” inside their own organizations.  

Wagging the Dog

What makes intrapreneurs so successful is their empathy toward colleagues’ challenges and their ability to apply critical creativity to generate new ideas. These solutions can start in one department, but because business happens in the space between functions, intraprenuership can quickly lead to scalable outcomes.

This move from command and control to a more servant-based leadership is not new, but it is becoming more pervasive and seems to draw upon innately feminine leadership qualities.

I know this works as a method of transformation from my own experience. I leveraged these metamorphic, human-focused qualities when I joined the leadership team of a more traditional company in the financial services space. By taking a high-energy and mostly fearless approach, I was able to impact the organization far beyond my job description.

What’s so beautiful about intrapreneurship is that anyone can do it. What’s more, this softer side of business can do wonders for companies.

The tail can wag the dog, so to speak, when working people run toward change with a mix of confidence and humility to significantly impact the strategy and transformation of an organization.  

Natural Intrapreneurs and Secret Weapons

If you’re not seeing this happen in your organization yet, partner with your female colleagues and go solve a problem.

Research shows that women are uniquely qualified to become organizational intrapreneurs, slaying the silos that exist in the hierarchical trappings of matrices, processes and organization charts to transform business and make it more profitable.

One study reveals that women score higher than men in 12 of 16 competencies, including:

  • Taking initiative
  • Driving results
  • Motivating and developing others
  • Building relationships
  • Collaboration and teamwork
  • Championing change
  • Problem-solving/analysis

While you might not be surprised about women’s “nurturing” competencies, it’s clear that women also lead the way in areas that are vital to successful intrapreneurship. Female leadership behaviors such as initiative, drive and openness to change, focus on what most of modern business is centered on today: speed, experience and technology designed around humans.

Women have been shown to disproportionately display “coaching” leadership traits that stall their own careers. But modern business is shifting, and to transform successfully, companies need human-focused leadership. Women not only lift empathy and humanity but also speed critical thinking and creativity.

Women’s ability to listen, be compassionate and to think more holistically helps inspire a broader talent pool to discover consumer needs and find new ways to drive value.

While only 6.9% of Fortune 1000 companies have female CEOs, those leaders generate 7% of total revenue of organizations on the list and outperform the S&P 500 index over their respective tenures. 

As more women take on an intrapreneurial role, it is my hope that female leaders will become recognized for their larger leadership skill set that involves not just coaching and collaboration, but initiative and innovation. Women’s ability to drive for results and champion change makes them just the type of leaders that today’s Corporate America needs.

Samantha Paxson is the CMO of CO-OP Financial Services, a financial technology company for 3,500 credit unions and their 60 million members. She is also the Founder of THINK by CO-OP, an innovation content platform empowering the evolution of mission-driven financial services.

Follow Samantha on Twitter @samsmythpaxson