Successful entrepreneurs seem to share specific personality traits that help them overcome the challenges of starting a business and persevere through the obstacles that invariably arise when running a company. Starting a business isn’t for everyone, but successful entrepreneurs thrive on the risks and rewards of business ownership.
We’ll explore entrepreneurial personality traits that help foster success and share tips on cultivating the skills and attitudes necessary for being your own boss.
We asked several business leaders about personality traits that are essential for entrepreneurship. They shared a range of attributes that combine to foster business success. You may already possess these personality traits, but if you don’t, it’s possible to cultivate them.
As a brand marketing and public relations consultant, Lisa Murray has worked with many serial entrepreneurs. One quality they all have in common, she says, is their ability to always be on the go.
“Born entrepreneurs don’t know how to power down,” said Murray, principal and co-founder of Trevi Communications. “They emit a constant hum of ideas, plans, strategies and high-octane energy.”
We’re not suggesting that you never power down; that would be unhealthy for most of us. But if your business ideas make you enthusiastic, you’ll naturally bring more energy to them.
If finding physical energy is a challenge, there are healthy ways to improve that – beyond amping up on caffeine or other substances. Fresh air and moving your body are two options – and we’re not even talking about undertaking a complex exercise routine. Any way you can get yourself up and mobile for a few minutes at a time can improve energy. A quick circuit or two around the office, dancing to a couple of energetic songs, and even engaging in mundane household tasks can help if you consciously speed it up a bit. Any movement that increases your heart rate for a few minutes can have lasting effects.
What you consume matters too. For a quick jolt of energy, fruit or juice is great; for longer-lasting energy, make it a protein. The problem with grabbing a chocolate bar or something with caffeine in it is the inevitable crash later, which may negate what you were going for in the first place.
Did you know? Your parents may have helped make you an entrepreneur. Research shows that how a child turns out can be attributed to the day-to-day decisions their parents made to guide their growth.
One of the key signs of a born entrepreneur is their ability to sell an idea and persuade others to buy into their cause, said CEO coach and author Nancy Eberhardt.
“Whether it is a landscaping business at age 12 or selling magazines door to door to fund a school trip, they are persistent in telling you about it and pitching why you need it,” Eberhardt said. “They are almost fearless in who they will approach and present their idea, service or product to.”
This doesn’t mean that you pounce on everyone you meet; that’s sure to backfire. But looking into persuasive techniques is advisable – and there are many. Persuasive people learn how to time their asks and speak the other person’s language. They present their ideas as win-wins and can show concrete ways to back that up. And they also know when it’s time to shut it down and move on.
As someone who works almost exclusively with entrepreneurs, marketing and PR consultant Robin Samora says entrepreneurs tend to have a unique way of fixing issues that may arise. “They come up with novel ways to solve problems that others can’t even imagine,” Samora said. “Ideas flow and come naturally to them.”
When we wrangle with a challenge, we tend to look at conventional solutions – ones that have worked in the past and other known fixes. To go beyond the conventional, hold a no-holds-barred brainstorming session. You can do this with others or on your own, quickly writing down whatever notions pop into your head and refusing to edit them until all your ideas, however crazy they sound, are exhausted.
Have an open mindset with yourself and others (if there are others), and don’t shut down a single idea. Once you have ideas in writing, put them away. When you return to them in an hour, day or week, you’re likely to spot something useful.
Developing a positive attitude can help any career, but positivity and optimism are crucial for entrepreneurs seeking to grow their businesses and succeed. Even in the worst situations, successful entrepreneurs always see the opportunity to glean something new, said Lili Balfour, founder of the investment banking firm Atelier Advisors.
“When their world is falling apart, they remain calm, knowing that there is a lesson to be learned,” Balfour said. “They are grateful for what has worked … and learn from what has not.”
Shutting it all down and walking away is easy and tempting. It might even be necessary. But it should not forestall your dreams and ideas.
Optimists use different language: Instead of “I failed,” they say “That failed.” Instead of “Obviously, I’m no good at that,” it’s “How could I have done that better?” And it’s not just “Where did I go wrong,” but also “What did I do right?”
Optimists see opportunity where others can only see failure.
The word “opportunistic” gets a bad rap, but we’re referring to people who are constantly on the lookout for new opportunities – a quality necessary for entrepreneurs seeking ways to turn ideas into products.
Dr. Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, author and professor of business psychology, believes entrepreneurs have a mindset for searching out opportunities and are always prepared to see a situational advantage.
“They see opportunities where others don’t,” Chamorro-Premuzic said, adding that they are willing to pursue these opportunities even when others hesitate to take the risk.
This is not to suggest that you mortgage everything to the hilt; it just means keeping your eyes open for routes into doing your next thing. These opportunities might present themselves within your organization, so listen closely to those who bring new ideas to the table.
They might come from outside, from a tip from someone in your network, a price change on a product, or a professional journal – really, anywhere. So be sure to keep looking.
Nadia Digilov, who left a career on Wall Street to become a successful wedding entrepreneur and author, said entrepreneurs are willing to acknowledge their mistakes and learn from them.
“Natural entrepreneurs analyze their behavior and are not afraid to admit that they have made a mistake,” Digilov said. “They attempt to correct negative behaviors more easily than [non-entrepreneurs].”
You may worry that admitting to a mistake will make you look weak. This could not be more wrong. Accepting and admitting you’ve erred makes you look more human, trustworthy and approachable to those within your organization and those with whom you do business.
The worst part of refusing to admit you made a mistake is that you risk continuing the same mistake, which also risks your business in the long run.
Starting a business requires constant creative thinking, so the mind of an entrepreneur is always at work, said Richard Stiennon, chief research analyst and founder of analyst firm IT-Harvest.
“[They] cannot turn off the flow of ideas,” Stiennon said. “Every problem is an opportunity to build a business to solve it.”
Sometimes we have to move ourselves into another environment to jump-start the creative process. This could mean a physical change or taking your mind out of the world you generally inhabit. Some strategies for changing your mind’s environment include:
Sometimes a creative solution comes along when your mind seems busy with other tasks.
Running a business requires taking action even when there may not be an obvious best choice. Elene Cafasso, president and founder of executive coaching firm Enerpace Inc., said that entrepreneurs can be decisive in the face of many competing demands.
“If you are someone who becomes paralyzed when there are too many moving pieces and too many contingencies, then owning your own business is not right for you,” Cafasso said.
Entrepreneurs, by contrast, can make decisions and act with confidence.
Whether or not we’re conscious of it, we all recognize that even small decisions carry risks and consequences – good, bad or neutral. The question is, do you have the entrepreneurial confidence to make a decision when the heat is on? It matters because owning a business can generate a lot of heat.
Hope Katz Gibbs, founder and president of Inkandescent Public Relations, said that as an entrepreneur, she believes those born with the characteristics needed to run their own business are willing to get back up after being knocked down. They can withstand setbacks and can lead their team through a rough patch.
“Our ideas aren’t always successful, but the thing that differentiates us is that we don’t give up – or give in,” Gibbs said. “We just learn from what didn’t work, and what did, and start again.” Ultimately, she said, entrepreneurs are the last ones standing.
Consider how you’ve reacted to past mistakes and failures. This doesn’t necessarily dictate how you’ll behave in the future. However, every business will likely experience failures of some sort, and some can even shut down your venture. Can you get back up and keep moving?
Adaptability is closely tied to resilience; both resilience and adaptability are key to business success in general and entrepreneurship in particular.
Entrepreneurs must be able to function without a lot of certainty, especially in the beginning. Starting a business means dealing with a lot of change, but entrepreneurs can adapt their plans to changing circumstances.
“[Entrepreneurs] think positive [and] don’t overthink problems,” said marketing consultant Jennifer Frye. “Instead, [they] make wise decisions and always [are] ready to accept change when it happens.”
Like optimism, adaptability is a way of thinking. When faced with challenges, ask the following questions:
If you’re going to make a go of running your own business, you must be willing to fail in small ways and learn from those failures to make the business better. You may also face failing completely and must have the courage to move on to the next thing.
“These individuals are risk-takers,” said Frye, who specializes in working with entrepreneurs and small business owners. “They are willing to fail fast and keep going despite adversity and challenges.”
It may seem counterproductive to ask yourself whether you’re willing to fail when starting a new venture. But in the end, if you’re not willing to take that chance, you may want to rethink your plan.
Many personality traits are considered inborn, but research from the University of California, Davis suggests we may be more pliable than previously thought. The report states, “[Certain] traits are … relatively stable, but changeable with effort and good timing.”
How do you make these changes? First, believe that you can, and have a good reason for doing so. “It is also important to consider motivational factors, as success is more likely if people are motivated and think change is feasible,” the study said.
So if you weren’t born persuasive, optimistic, resilient or creative, find ways to cultivate these traits. Examine the habits, skills and behaviors of people who possess these qualities, and seek out books about developing these traits.
It’s great to come by entrepreneurial traits naturally, but whether or not you’re a natural-born entrepreneur, every aspiring business owner can work on them. The top reason most entrepreneurs start businesses is the desire to be their own boss. If you want this flexibility, freedom and independence in your career, you’ve already set the stage for entrepreneurial success.
Find places in your current life and career to practice entrepreneurial traits. Consider how to bounce back (resilience), dig for creative solutions (resourcefulness and creativity), or find ways to influence others (persuasiveness). If you can cultivate a few of these traits, your business has a better shot at succeeding.
Katharine Paljug and Chad Brooks contributed to the writing and reporting in this article. Some source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.