In pursuing your dream, you will be the biggest factor in your own success – your ability to identify an opportunity, execute an idea or deliver a service. In this section we will consider the all-important question: What are the qualities and personality traits that come together to make the successful entrepreneur?
Many studies have been conducted that delve into the personality of entrepreneurs. The results of these studies can help us begin to build the profile of the successful entrepreneur. For example: they were most likely the first born in their family; they held their first job before they were fifteen; and while they are college graduates, they were average students.
These kinds of studies of the entrepreneurial psyche may be interesting, but as you evaluate your entrepreneurial potential, you need to know more. After all, being the second born in your family, or being at the top of your class, does not preclude entrepreneurial success.
While many of the key characteristics and attitudes that make up the entrepreneurial “right stuff” can be acquired or learned, the importance of innate attributes such as physical health, energy and emotional stability cannot be overlooked. The life of the entrepreneur is a demanding one and there is little distinction between professional and personal life. That they are comfortable in this all-consuming role is critical to the success of the business and the satisfaction of the individual.
In this chapter we will look at what have been described as the key elements of the entrepreneurial “right stuff” the characteristics that are essential to the successful entrepreneur. It is important that you evaluate yourself as objectively as possible. There is no right or wrong answers and an honest evaluation will help you map your characteristics against those that define the successful entrepreneur.
Is It You? Ask yourself if you agree with the statements listed in the “Is It You?” section following each characteristic description. The more strongly you agree with the statements, the more closely your characteristics match those of the successful entrepreneur.
- Determined and Dedicated
Determination, dedication, perseverance, commitment– many consider these to be the most important of all the characteristics of the entrepreneur. In fact, strength in these areas can make up for many other areas of “weakness”.
Starting a new business is never easy and these characteristics are necessary tools for those who persevere through the difficulties of start-up – the practical implications of which can put anyone’s dedication and determination to the test.
Is It You?
□ I am prepared to make sacrifices in my personal life to ensure the success of my business.
□ I am prepared to take a cut in pay while I build my business.
□ I am happy to work long hours to get a job
“An entrepreneur must be prepared to spend long hours and be the last in line to collect dollars from a venture.” Michael Mulhall
“There are lots of smart people in business, but the ones who succeed never give up. In business, perseverance is the key to success.”Ron Connelly
- Optimistic Realist
Successful entrepreneurs combine natural optimism with a healthy dose of realism. They are very self aware and possess a keen sense of their own strengths and weaknesses. They are objective and can examine themselves and their ideas impartially. They know when they are beyond their capabilities and have no problem seeking help from experts. In pursuing opportunities, the entrepreneur is not fool- hardy or stubborn.
In fact, despite their dedication and determination, they will give up the pursuit of an opportunity more quickly than most if they perceive it will not deliver the promised benefits. This – combined with the fact that the entrepreneur possesses a keen understanding of their competitive environment and an intimate knowledge of their customers – means that entrepreneurs do not waste their efforts.
Is It You?
□ I can admit my areas of weakness as readily as my areas of strength.
□ I am comfortable asking for, and accepting, advice from people more experienced than I.
□ I have a strong and intimate understanding of my future business and my potential customers.
Studies have shown that many successful entrepreneurs have had businesses that have failed in the past. This statistic speaks to one of the key defining characteristics of a successful entrepreneur: the ability to bounce back and respond positively to challenges.
Entrepreneurs do not take failure personally. In fact, for them there is no such thing as an unmitigated failure– every experience is a lesson and every challenge an opportunity. They quickly come to terms with a defeat and learn from their mistakes in order to ensure that the same problems do not reoccur. They have the ability to pick themselves up, dust themselves off, and begin again – armed with new information that makes them stronger and better at what they do.
Entrepreneurs meet change head-on. When they meet with failure, they are able to objectively analyze the situation and identify what should have been done differently. In evaluating how things should be done differently, they are creative thinkers: unconcerned with rules, hierarchy or how things have been done in the past.
Entrepreneurs have an insatiable desire to know how they are performing. Quantitative evaluation is more important to them than qualitative; they want to see sales figures and profit margins. They seek out constructive criticism from those they respect. They are good listeners and quick learners.
Is It You?
□ I can accept failure without admitting defeat.
□ When something does not succeed, it is very important to analyze the situation and what could have
been done differently.
□ I appreciate constructive criticism, and encourage it from people whom I respect.
“Trial and error are the ways of progress. A capacity to enjoy the trial and error adventure is a common characteristic of successful entrepreneurs.”Grant Hooker
- Motivated and Motivating
Entrepreneurship has no built-in status and no guaranteed perks or income level. Entrepreneurs therefore are not motivated by status or money, but instead they have a high need for achievement.
Their greatest satisfaction is derived from the excitement and challenge of creating and building a business. For this reason, they are never content with the status quo and are not comfortable resting on their laurels. They always feel that things could be done better, more efficiently, more effectively — and they are constantly solving problems and improving their practices.
Entrepreneurs have a strong success orientation but it is their own definition of success that is important and that definition is a constantly moving target. They are not content with just being better than others; they want to be better than their own best results. They are action-oriented and want to begin achieving results immediately.
Successful entrepreneurs need not only be self-motivated, but must also be able to motivate others. They are visionaries with a clear idea of what they want to achieve. Because, as we have seen, they have little time for hierarchy, entrepreneurs can exert influence without a formal structure. They are able to inspire people to work towards a solution; they are skilled in conflict resolution.
They understand that a substantial business cannot be achieved by one person. Because they have a strong understanding of their own strengths and weaknesses, entrepreneurs seek out those that complement their skills — and inspire those people to become part of the team. They are hero builders: happy to reward members of their team by sharing credit for success and giving them more responsibility. After all, it is not status that motivates the entrepreneur.
Is It You?
□ Perks such as company cars and expenses accounts are not important to me.
□ Personal satisfaction is more important to me than being able to buy expensive things.
□ I believe that change is the one constant.
□ I am always trying to better myself.
□ I find it easy to get people to do things for me.
- Self-Confident and Self-Reliant
Entrepreneurs have tremendous confidence in their own abilities. They are optimistic and believe they can achieve anything. In fact, they believe that the impossible just takes a little longer to accomplish. They believe that they have been the most important factor in their own success and feel that luck (although welcome) has not been a major contributing factor.
During the course of their lives, entrepreneurs have not been heavily involved in team or group activities. They do not have a great need for affiliation. They can get along with many different personalities but do not need to have a lot of friends. Their belief in their own abilities means that they do not need to seek approval in making decisions and they are comfortable with the fact that it is “lonely at the top”.
Is It You?
□ I prefer to make big decisions on my own.
□ I wake up happy most of the time.
□ I have made my own luck.
□ I believe that every problem has a solution.
As we know, there are no guarantees of success for entrepreneurs starting out.
In the same way that status and perks are not of great importance to them, they are not overly concerned with job security and retirement. They are tolerant of uncertainty and ambiguity.
There is a commonly held misconception that entrepreneurs are risk-seekers but this is not the case. Entrepreneurs are comfortable accepting moderate and calculated risk — and they deal with stress effectively. They are able to make decisions quickly under pressure but they exhibit the patience and exert the self-control necessary to maintain their vision.
Is It You?
□ I am able to keep things in perspective in times of difficulty.
□ I do not take risk for the thrill of it.
□ I enjoy working in a fast paced environment.
□ I trust my instincts in decision-making.
□ I do not spend a lot of time worrying about all the things that could possibly go wrong.
“Entrepreneurship is responsible risk-taking… the leadership of responsible risk-taking.” John Kelly
- Integrity and Reliability
Integrity and reliability are the characteristics that are rated most highly among entrepreneurs as the quality that they most respect.
Trust is the single most important ingredient in building the strong business relationships that are key to success. Successful entrepreneurs are honest and forthright. They expect and reward the same from those they work with, both customer and suppliers.
Is It You?
□ I believe that ethics and honesty are key ingredients to a successful business.
□ People describe me as being direct and forthright.
□ I do not shy away from situations of confrontation.
□ It is very important to me that I do what I say I am going to do.
While this section outlines what are commonly held as the key characteristics of a successful entrepreneur, weakness in some areas does not forestall success. As we outlined at the beginning of this section, many of the characteristics of the successful entrepreneur can be learned or acquired– and knowledge and understanding of your areas of weakness can help you improve.
“In business if you don’t dream of doing more, you’ll just end up doing more of the same.” Jim Cummings