So what are some entrepreneurial characteristics for the successful entrepreneur mindset? After thinking about this long and hard, and looking at the most successful entrepreneurs that I know directly, that I know through my network, and that I know about, I came-up with this list. I’m sure it isn’t comprehensive, but I do see all of these characteristics in successful entrepreneurs. There may be some overlap on some of these characteristics, but I have kept all 15 because there are sufficient differences that cover different aspects of a person’s character and personality.
Every successful entrepreneur, and, in fact, every successful person that I know is smart. They may not have an IQ of 160, but some do. When I say smart, they are of above average intelligence, and most have higher education, many with advanced degrees. I know, Bill Gates was a college dropout. Of course he was attending Harvard University at the time! I’d say Bill Gates is pretty smart.
Typically, successful entrepreneurs are also “Street Smart”, and not just “Book Smart”. They are usually pretty savvy and intuitive.
Most successful entrepreneurs also have a reasonable degree of “emotional intelligence”. They can be empathetic, but sometimes choose not to be. Not because they don’t care about other people, but because they are so fiercely competitive and have incredibly high standards for themselves and everyone else around them.
(2) Hard Working
I know of may people that have a good work ethic, but have very limited career success. Being hard working alone is not sufficient to achieve successful in anything, including being a successful entrepreneur. However, if you are not willing to work hard, even during times of setbacks and adversity, it is unlikely that you will be successful.
Generally, successful entrepreneurs are hard workers, and they also enjoy what they are doing. They are dedicated, driven, and focused. They are goal oriented and have a strong attention to detail. They are typically highly organized and have seemingly boundless energy. They know how to start things, but, more importantly, they know how to finish things.
If you have ever been friends with a successful military figure or a successful athlete, you know what competitiveness looks like. Extremely competitive people are not always “in your face” about things. But you can tell from their approach, and their track record that they love to win, and even more importantly, they hate to lose.
The most competitive people, weather it is in sports, war or business, don’t just want to win, they want to crush the enemy. It reminds me of the quote attributed to Genghis Khan, “The greatest joy for a man is to defeat his enemies, to drive them before him, to take from them all they possess, to see those they love in tears, to ride their horses, and to hold their wives and daughters in his arms.” This quote was maybe made even more famous by Arnold Schwarzenegger in his movie, Conan the Barbarian.
Successful entrepreneurs are ambitious, disciplined, and have a burning drive for success. Most operate with a bit of a “chip on their shoulder”, like they have something to prove. When thinking about this quality, I think about Tom Brady, the NFL quarterback for the New England Patriots. Brady played college football at the University of Michigan and was drafted in the sixth round of the 2000 NFL draft. He has gone on to win four Super Bowls, three Super Bowl MVPs, and two League MVPs.
One of the biggest determinants of success, in anything, is what some people call “grit”. It is a combination of being focused, goal oriented, and showing perseverance, even during times of great adversity. Successful entrepreneurs are tenacious. They do not quit. They are finishers. They are willing to “grit it out” when times get tough. As the old saying goes, “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.” Trust me, I have heard this saying more than once from my father.
Successful entrepreneurs are constantly learning. This mode of always learning includes being a student of people, management, and leadership. Successful entrepreneurs are always trying to be more efficient and more effective. This translates into their teams as well. They want to make their companies like “well oiled machines” that can do things better, faster, and more efficiently than any other organization on the planet. As such, over time, they develop a situational management style. They are able to be adaptive depending upon the situation and the people involved. They have a sense of the situation, what works well, and what will work under certain circumstances. They exhibit what I like to call “selective flexibility”. They will be flexible if the time and need calls for it, in order to fight for the great good of the company.
It seems that everyone these days talks about the importance of passion. Be passionate! Show that you are passionate! What the heck does this really mean? Should I be zealous about everything and have a ridiculous smile on my face no matter what the circumstances?
Passion as it relates to entrepreneurship is about believing in yourself, your team, and the mission you are on. Successful entrepreneurs are generally very optimistic, but not naively so. It may appear to others, at times, that they are being naive. But they see something that other just don’t see yet. And they remain passionate, enthusiastic, and focused during ups and downs and setbacks. They maintain the vision. They are on a quest. They are carrying the torch for the organization.
I don’t really need to say much about confidence, other than great entrepreneurs have it, and not in the form of false bravado, they actually are confident because they know what they are doing and they know what they are talking about. It does not mean that they won’t listen, or need to cover-up their insecurities by being overly confident. In fact, it is quite the opposite. Great entrepreneurs usually are “right”. When they are occasionally wrong, they admit it, make any amends that need to be made, and move on with things.
Nearly all successful entrepreneurs are very curious and inquisitive. They don’t just take things at face value. They have a honed sense of seeing trends and piecing together information and data in such a way that they can “see over the horizon”. As such, they can predict trends and competitive moves before others can even start to understand them.
Most successful entrepreneurs are good “salespeople”. They know how to promote themselves, their ideas, their products, their people, and their companies. They have credibility with people, and they can do a good job of describing things in such a way that people not only understand, but resonate with. Most can operate at various levels of technical depth depending upon the audience.
Most successful entrepreneurs operate with high integrity. This is not always the case, but I am hard pressed to call someone successful if they are unethical. They may experience a season or two of success, but eventually things inevitably come crashing down on them.
Many books have been written about leadership, but my best definition of a leader is someone that has followers. To be successful, you have to have a “tribe”. Great leaders have a set of like-mined people that are passionate and have “bought in” to the vision. These people have “drank the Kool-Aid”, and they want more!
Like all great leaders, great entrepreneurs can delegate with responsibility and still hold others accountable. They can articulate the vision. But most importantly, they have a loyal following.
A person with this characteristic on some lists is called a “risk taker”. However, I don’t think entrepreneurs are just risk takers. You can go to Las Vegas and be a risk taker, but the odds are massively stacked against you. You can go skydiving or bungee jumping. Is that risk taking? For sure. It is thrill seeking? It most definitely is.
Great entrepreneurs definitely have a willingness to take risks, but I think it is more about the ability to assess risk/reward in a way that others can’t or don’t. This is a combination of risk taking, risk assessment, and decisiveness. Getting back to the vision, good entrepreneurs can see over the horizon, so they don’t see the same risks that others see.
Great entrepreneurs have a high tolerance for uncertainty and ambiguity, and they can make decisions in that type of environment. In fact, they thrive on making decisions in that environment. They want to win. They want the competition to lose. They want the competition to be scratching their heads and saying, “How the heck did they do that?” If you are just making decisions in an environment with certainty and low risk, how is that any fun?
In situations when the entrepreneur makes a mistake, they take responsibility, adjust, and course correct along the way. This is typically no problem from a business perspective because the great entrepreneurs are so far ahead of completion in their thinking, that they have time to make course corrections!
Nearly all great entrepreneurs are fiercely loyal. They are loyal to other people, to causes, and to a “greater good”. The greater good may not be the same for any of them, but there is a commitment to their greater good.
Great entrepreneurs are typically very direct communicators. They can be charming, and they can turn-on that charm. But, frequently they can be very direct and unambiguous in their communication style. They can sometimes be quite “clinical” and seem unsympathetic and “harsh”. They typically don’t “sugar coat” anything. This does not mean that they lack empathy; they simply have extremely high expectations of themselves, their team, their company, and their “greater good”.
(15) Have Mentors and Role Models
Great entrepreneurs foster relationships with more seasoned and experienced people to learn things at an accelerated rate that would not be possible if they tried to learn everything on their own, or if they only assessed situations based on their personal perspective and “lens” versus seeing it from their trusted advisors as well. Like great athletes, great entrepreneurs want the best coaches, and the best guidance. This is how you become great. This is all about a great entrepreneur’s willingness to learn, and not just from books, but also from other seasoned and experienced people.
If you agree of disagree with anything on this list, I would love to hear from you. If you enjoyed this, please sign-up for my monthly newsletter where I provide updates and special offers. I love working with entrepreneurs and hope to build a relationship with you.
This is Patrick Henry, CEO of QuestFusion, with The Real Deal