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Leadership-balanced entrepreneurship

Article written by Leander J. Opperman, UNLOK Consulting (Pty) Ltd

In my final article in this series, I consider the important aspect of being a balanced leader, when embarking on an entrepreneurial journey.

In discussing how an in-house lawyer named Darwin E. Smith became CEO of ailing Kimberly-Clark in 1971 (stunningly turning around the firm’s fortunes) Jim Collins[1] introduces the concept of “Level 5 Leadership” in his book: “Good to Great”.

Smith was a balanced leader, displaying extreme personal humility with an intense professional will.

Whilst most successful entrepreneurs are all incredibly ambitious “... their ambition is first and foremost for the institution (or start-up), not themselves.”

Enduring and inclusive leadership requires a fine balance between humility and ambition.

Being open to learning and having a mentor, are two other important attributes required by entrepreneurs. These attributes were also present in Smith.[2]

The pandemic should raise our sense of responsibility for our employees’ welfare, and we should display sincerity and empathy with the plight of our employees who often are less fortunate than we are.

A successful entrepreneur is also humble enough to learn from others.

Linked to these attributes is the need to instill a culture of affordable loss where the employees are encouraged to find new and creative solutions to old problems.


Successful entrepreneurs are leadership balanced in their ambitions and drive, on the one hand and humility and openness to learn, on the other.

Entrepreneurs who practice humility and empathy and actively create a culture of affordable loss, achieve greatness and buy-in from their colleagues and workforce alike.

These attributes strengthen the entrepreneur’s influence, contributing to the firm’s profitability and longevity.


The three attributes that I have covered over the course of these three articles are interwoven opportunities that are often only noticed once failures have occurred. A balanced entrepreneur-leader, who allows for affordable loss in the firm’s culture, is more likely to achieve the goal of the firm’s prosperity and longevity.

[1]Kimberly-Clark stock had fallen 36% behind the general market. During his 20-year tenure as CEO, Smith led the company to generate cumulative stock returns 4.1 times the market, beating direct rivals Procter& Gamble and outperforming firms like Coca Cola, Hewlett-Packard, 3 M, and General Electric. [2]See Collins at p 20. In retirement, Smith reflected on his exceptional performance, saying simply, “I never stopped trying to become qualified for the job”.

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