Entrepreneurs: Traits to develop, but you are not alone

Do you have the right five or seven or ten things you need to be an entrepreneur?  I don’t think so, and that’s great news.

The thrill of running the  show is attractive.  It plays to your strengths. But the litmus test is whether you’re willing to find people to augment you – your skills, experience, ability. If you have the whole package, failure is still likely.  Without others, it’s almost certain and they’re the key improving your odds.  That’s the hidden message in this HBR blog post on The Skills Most Entrepreneurs Lack.  Serial entrepreneurs in the underlying study were ranked higher than a control group in four traits:

  • Persuasion
  • Leadership
  • Personal accountability
  • Goal orientation

Together they can make for a leader with vision who is committed to winning others to that vision; one who makes great demands of herself, who delivers, and who will keep on striving.  These strengths help drive under-resourced, under-funded start ups through significant obstacles.

Leading edge of learning

But as some start-up veterans will tell you, these leaders can drive others crazy. That’s because they don’t demonstrate the traits that help make strong organizations, the kind people that want to belong to. But that’s where entrepreneurs have the biggest chance to open themselves to the leading edge of learning.

If you’re employee number four or seven or more, and not a co-founder, you need something different:

  • Empathy:  You need some appreciation for the challenges of your work, your contribution, abilities you need to develop, and occasionally, for the sacrifices you’re making.  We’re all adults here, but the work is hard.  Entrepreneurs need to develop empathy.

Key traits, from HBR.org

  • Planning and organization to guide you from today to the accomplishment of the company’s vision.  Entrepreneurs can answer to their intuition when they’re solo.  Unless they can recruit psychics, a plan and process helps keep the team on the road together, even if plans change as part of pivoting.
  • Analytical problem solving:  You need to understand how decisions are made. Entrepreneurs’ intuition made be as sound as in Blink, but “that don’t scale.”  It’s encouraging to see the empirical approach that dominates many start-ups these days.   There are times when a leap of faith, a big bet is the right play.  It’s after you’re out of data.
  • Self-management:  People need a degree of consistency in leadership. The average start-up employee has a higher-than-average tolerance for ambiguity. But entrepreneurs throw a long shadow. You want the leader and the company to succeed. But your Spidey sense is always alert: Is this boat stable? Is the captain still in charge? Self-management in your leaders gives you a sense of consistency and that makes trust possible. It also makes leaders more effective on all fronts.

Leaders: You probably already think of your market space as an ecosystem.  Think of your company the same way.  Make the most of the people around you to find the uncomfortable edge of your leadership development and seek support in learning.

  • Who’s got it? Note, honor, and foster traits and abilities in others that you don’t have to the same degree.  Strong leaders aren’t afraid to recognize others for strengths that they themselves don’t have in spades.
  • Don’t delegate it: It’s a relief that you don’t have to do it all yourself.  It shows humility to be open to others.  But it is your responsibility to know yourself and make the most of your raw material as a manager, leader, and entrepreneur.
  • Learn from those who have strengths you don’t.  You may never be a paragon of empathy or planning and organization, but you can learn.
  • Investigate the inside job: What’s keeping you from getting better at say, listening, a skill that enables empathy?

Often the best way to identify your leading edge of learning is to ask for feedback.

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