It’s the old nature-versus-nurture argument: Is the ability to be an entrepreneur something you’re born with, or something you instill in yourself? Good news for introverts and late bloomers: Research shows the most important skills can be acquired over time. A look at successful entrepreneurs throughout history, in fact, depicts a wide range of ages, personality types, and GPAs.
Success isn’t out of reach if you’re not a competitive, hard-driven extrovert with a Type A personality — quite the opposite, in fact. C students are often the ones driven to move forward with their own businesses, while neither straight A students nor Type A personalities tend to lead that pack, says Elana Fine of the University of Maryland's Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship, quoted in Entrepreneur magazine.
Common characteristics of entrepreneurs
So what are the most common characteristics among the world’s top entrepreneurs? Meyers-Briggs research reveals five overlapping strengths among people likely to be self-employed, managing other people and pulling in higher incomes. Consider the following:
Entrepreneurial types are easily bored, interested in the pursuit of knowledge and constantly seeking new skills. Often, they achieve success through their ability to recognize opportunities others have overlooked. Instead of money, many are driven by the chance to solve a problem. “Most entrepreneurs I know believe they will change the world," says Professor Jay Friedlander in Entrepreneur. "There's an excitement and belief in what they're doing that gets them through the hard times."
Business founders tend to be imaginative and are frequently resistant to following the status quo out of tradition or because everyone else is doing something a certain way. They may quietly devise new strategies, or may be so enthusiastic that they drive forward entire groups of people. In many cases they end up creating something substantial out of very little because they’re able to identify chances to make improvements. One recent study by London School of Economics researchers found a common blend of "smarts" and "aggressive, illicit, risk-taking activities" among entrepreneurs.
Entrepreneurs often see life’s challenges as a chance to take control rather than finding them debilitating. They’re more apt than others to take personal responsibility for their own ideas and projects because they see themselves as having control over the outcome. That concept is supported by researchers Anthony Tjan, Richard J. Harrington and Tsun-Yah Hsieh in their book “Heart, Smarts, Guts and Luck” (Harvard Business Review Press, 2012), in which they determined 65 percent of business leaders worldwide can be classified “hearts-dominant” for their passion, vision, and strong sense of purpose.
Once they form plans, entrepreneurs tend to target their goals without allowing distraction, making decisions quickly and systematically. Often they’re less concerned about getting along with others than focusing on their objectives, a priority which can sometimes make them appear uncooperative or unfeeling. Research published in the Journal of Applied Psychology also found entrepreneurs to rank low in neuroticism, allowing them to better tolerate stress.
Less fear of risk
Entrepreneurs are less worried about failure than other people. They have the fortitude to get started, to make changes as needed, and to follow through in the face of challenges — all highly important given the notoriously grueling process of starting a new business. "It all boils down to being able to successfully manage fear — fear of humiliation, fear of missing payroll, running out of cash, bankruptcy, the list goes on,” says Michael Sherrod of the Neeley School of Business at Texas Christian University, quoted in Entrepreneur online.
Of course there are exceptions to the personality types successful in establishing their own businesses, and myriad factors are involved in such success. But Meyers-Briggs researchers might argue would-be entrepreneurs are starting as underdogs without those five dominant traits.
"Naturally, the entrepreneur's diplomas, business knowledge and craftsmanship play an important role," confirm Martyn Driessen and Peter Zwart in their research on entrepreneurial personalities. "The success of a business is due to many factors. But the greatest determinant of a business's success is the entrepreneur him/herself."